Mimi Milligan ’24
The United States truly suffered a devastating loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg over the weekend. Even the notoriously uncouth President Trump offered a sincere and complimentary comment on the trailblazing Justice of the Supreme Court. In what seemed like nearly the same breath, however, Trump also announced his intention to move forward with the process of nominating a replacement justice to the court. It is difficult to not draw comparisons to President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in 2016 after the passing of Justice Scalia. This nomination from Obama, in his final year in office, was immediately thrown out by Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and the Republican-led Senate, who argued that it would be inappropriate to nominate a new justice before a presidential election.
There are some key differences in the 2016 case to our current situation. President Obama was in his eighth year of presidency, meaning he could not stand for reelection, in comparison to Trump, who may still be in office for another four years. While Obama nominated Merrick Garland, who was introduced to the American people as something of a moderate, Trump has his sights on a nominee ideologically opposed to Ginsburg. Amy Coney Barrett has emerged as one of Trump’s potential selections and she is known for her staunch, anti-abortion opinion rooted in conservative ideology. To confirm Barrett or another nominee through the Senate, a majority of senators would need to confirm Trump’s choice in a particularly speedy process before Inauguration in January.
I am hardly the first writer to point out the blatant hypocrisy of the Republican party in the current moment, however, the GOP’s divergent political policies to fill both the seats of Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg are truly astounding. When Obama was tasked with filling the conservative Scalia’s seat, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said, “I don’t think we should be moving on a nominee in the last year of this president’s term—I would say that if it was a Republican president.” Of the very few Republican senators that have voiced concerns with this speedy nomination process as proposed by Trump, Rubio seems to stand behind the Republican president 100%.
This absurd hypocrisy from Republican leaders is not just something that can become an Instagram meme or a joke on late comedy—it seems to be a grave indicator of the crumbling of the democratic process under Trump and an increasingly divided America. The made-up rule (described by Slate magazine as a “bogus precedent”) that a president in an election year cannot nominate a justice to the Supreme Court is another example of the lack of respect toward order and democracy. It also shows how voting this fall—for young people, for underrepresented groups at the polls, and for all Democrats—remains more important than ever.
As Mitch McConnell said in March of 2016, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
With Biden’s popularity surging in some polls, it makes sense for GOP senators and Trump himself to want to push a conservative justice into the Supreme Court, where Ginsburg previously served as a reliable vote for the opposite end of the political spectrum.
Hopefully, the matter will be first allowed to be put in the hands of American voters in November. Anything otherwise would be disservice to Justice Ginsburg’s memory and legacy on the bench.