Who was Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a Supreme Court Justice (more commonly known as a judge) in the USA for 27 years and a champion of women’s rights, equality and democracy. During Obama’s presidency she became an icon of liberal America, growing into her role on the court, dishing out put-downs and earning her the nickname ‘The Notorious RBG’. She died of pancreatic cancer on Friday, and leaves behind a legacy of iconic feminism and an empty seat on the Supreme Court. 


She sounds like an impressive woman

She really was, only the second woman ever to sit on the court. She was born in Brooklyn, and was one of just nine women in her class of around 500 at Harvard Law. Despite graduating top of the class, she struggled to find work in law, and even had an application to be a clerk at the Supreme Court rejected. However, she persevered, and in 1993 she was nominated by Bill Clinton to the Supreme Court, after earning a reputation as a moderate and considered judge.
She was incredibly dedicated to her work for the court; in 2010, the day after her husband of 56 years died, she went to the court as normal. Since 1999, she had four battles with cancer, and yet only missed her first court argument in 2019. At 80, she could still do 20 press-ups. You didn’t mess with RBG.


What happens to her seat?

Well, it’s a weird one. Normally, the President would select a nominee, and the Senate would then vote to approve or disapprove the selection. As justices serve for life, or until they retire, getting to nominate someone is a big deal, and Trump has already had two chances. The picks are meant to be impartial, as justices are not supposed to get involved in politics, but it’s a recognised fact that they tend to lean liberal or conservative in their decisions on cases.
Republican presidents tend to nominate conservative judges, and democrats nominate liberals. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a liberal justice, nominated by Bill Clinton, but now the court as a whole is split 5-3 in favour of the conservatives. 


So Donald Trump’s nomination would make it 6-3? 

Yes. But also maybe no. You see, four years ago when Obama was President, he had a chance to make a nomination for the Supreme Court. He nominated the liberal Merrik Garland, but the Republican-controlled Senate invented the idea that they couldn’t vote on a nomination too close to a Presidential election. They refused to vote, and the nomination was passed on to Trump once he was elected. That happened 9 months before an election, but the 2020 election has already begun with postal votes already coming in.
The difference is that this time, the President and the Senate are both Republican, making it much easier for a new decision to be made. 


Surely they can’t just pick and choose which nominations they vote on? 

It doesn’t seem like they should, but no-one seems to have brought anything official up to stop it. Democrats are already kicking up a storm at the hypocrisy, and the situation is likely to change over the next few hours, let alone weeks. Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Senate has already said that Trump’s nomination will get a vote, however Lisa Murkowski, a Reublican senator has said she won’t vote on a nomination, and more like her could follow.
There is an argument for Trump saving the nomination until after the election and using the potential of a liberal Biden nomination to push more Republican voters to the polls, to re-elect him, but he’s more likely to push a nomination through quickly than take the risk of Biden winning the election.

A few days before her death, Ruth Bader Ginsburg made her final wish that she “will not be replaced until a new president is installed”. Time will tell if the Republicans will grant it.


Image credit: Shawn Miller


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