With Ruth Bader Ginsburg Gone, The Fight For Our Courts Goes Even Deeper

October 21, 2020
 Democracy

With Ruth Bader Ginsburg Gone, The Fight For Our Courts Goes Even Deeper

With a majority of conservatives on the Supreme Court already, we have a tough climb ahead. We are no strangers to fighting the battles some thought were lost causes — we’re ready to do it again.

by Tarah Heinzen

As we approach the 2020 election with climate change, a viral pandemic, and a recession already wreaking havoc on our lives, it seemed like the stakes could not get any higher. And yet, with the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, they have.

Justice Ginsburg’s impact as a champion for women’s rights and for equality under the law is immense. From protecting the air we breathe to ensuring our access to essential health care, her decisions, issued over the course of nearly three decades on the Court, have improved the lives of everyday people in countless ways. Justice Ginsburg put rigorous legal analysis first, upholding the integrity of the Court as an institution, and was a model of the civility that our democratic system once embodied. Known for her powerful dissents as the Court has steadily moved to the right, she nonetheless maintained a close friendship with her ideological opposite, Justice Antonin Scalia, for many years.

Trump’s nominee to fill her vacancy, Amy Coney Barrett, represents the opposite. A former Federalist Society member, Barrett’s voting record during her brief three-year stint on the Seventh Circuit reflects a far-right ideology spanning issues of equality, immigration, and health care. Her decisions indicate that she is more than willing to shut the courthouse doors in order to protect polluters. She made it clear in the hearings this week she will likely not uphold efforts to curb climate change or other environmental protections. Without a doubt, Barrett’s nomination threatens to take America backwards, dismantling the hard-fought progress of the past half-century.

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Our Federal Courts Are Already Wildly Out Of Balance To Republicans’ Advantage 

Under Trump, the federal courts have already moved dramatically to the right – aided by the Republican Senate’s rubber stamp, Trump has made a staggering 218 lifetime appointments to the federal courts. This thumb on the scales of justice threatens to erode hard-fought wins for civil rights, the environment, and many other issues for decades to come.

The Supreme Court already has an ill-gotten conservative majority, and yet another Trump appointment would solidify this into a 6-3 supermajority, rendering even the occasional “swing” vote by Chief Justice Roberts — more an effort to hold up the crumbling façade of institutional integrity than an indication of genuinely moderate views — a thing of the past. It would also mean that a third of the Justices on the Court will have been appointed by a president who lost the popular vote.

Such politicizing of the Court threatens the necessary constitutional check on the power of the executive and legislative branches. We rely on both the courts and the Senate to uphold precedent where that precedent has expanded rights and protected our institutions—but the politicized race to install a dogmatic jurist to the highest court abandons precedent, reveals the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans, and further undermines trust in our government as a whole.

Another Supreme Court Power Grab Threatens To Rig Our Democracy For A Generation

By locking in far-right control of the Court for the foreseeable future, Senate Republicans hope to further insulate themselves from democratic accountability — relying on the promise of the Court paving the way for yet more structural barriers to voting and democratic representation, as well as further deregulation for their corporate campaign-backers. These Senators know their ideas do not have the support of the majority of Americans, and that they can only win by rigging the game. 

We must fight back by demanding that our Senators let the people decide and refuse to vote on a new Supreme Court nominee until after the next President is inaugurated. 

And if they don’t listen, and rush through an illegitimate confirmation anyway, we must not let that end the debate. At Food & Water Action, we have always known that righting the wrongs that have taken our country so far from its democratic values will take bold change. If 2021 brings new leadership in the White House and the Senate, expanding the Court to reflect the will of the majority must be on the agenda — and it will be our job to make sure it is. To accept anything less is to concede not only the destruction of Justice Ginsburg’s legacy of equality and justice, but also a devastating setback to our progress tackling climate change and the other great challenges of our time—progress that simply cannot wait.

No matter what happens in the next few months, and though our strategies may change, we know that we can, and must, win — in Congress, at the grassroots, and in the courts. The Supreme Court wields enormous power over our lives and our democracy, but the power of organized people demanding real change is far greater. And in Justice Ginsburg’s words, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

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