I first heard the news of the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside Yates Hall, where I was finishing up some homework with a friend. When she received the text from her dad who works for a United States Senator, we talked for a while with tears in our eyes, reflecting on the crazy year that 2020 has been. When I walked inside, I was surprised to see sports instead of the news on the common room TV. The boys watching the basketball game said they were too upset to watch the news coverage. There were girls sobbing in our hall, mourning the death of a role model. Many students at the College of William and Mary were grieving the death of Ginsburg, as was almost every citizen who respects the highest court in the nation.
Friday, Sept. 18, around 7 p.m., Ginsburg died after her long battle with pancreatic cancer. According to her granddaughter, before she passed, Justice Ginsburg dictated, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Just over a week later, Sept. 26, President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill this new vacancy on the Supreme Court. Not only did Trump disregard Ginsburg’s final wish, but he also nominated a conservative, pro-life justice who stands for almost everything Ginsburg fought against. Some Americans may perceive Trump nominating a female justice as a symbol of “honoring Ginsburg’s legacy.” However, this act diminishes her legacy, as it seems Trump sees her as a unidimensional female, rather than a staunch liberal justice. Ultimately, I see it as a sexist move, as Trump seems to see women as interchangeable and dismisses them as independent thinkers.
As her past record shows, Judge Barrett has worked to limit a woman’s access to abortion, strip away public health care, and support a literal interpretation of the Second Amendment. These are all ideological opposites of Ginsburg’s political views. Mallory Quigley, the vice president of communications for the anti-abortion political group the Susan B. Anthony List, stated, “The reason we love Amy Barrett is she is known to the grassroots, she has already been vetted”.
Ginsburg would be offended if someone had told her Judge Barrett’s nomination was a way of honoring her legacy. The American public and American presidents need to stop associating a Judge’s demographic identity with their political legacy. Though she is a woman, Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination does not honor Ginsburg: it erases everything Ginsburg stood for.
President George H. W. Bush made a similar political chess move with his nomination of Justice Clarence Thomas. Bush nominated Thomas to be the second Black Supreme Court justice, replacing the first, Justice Thurgood Marshall. This may have been a way of honoring Marshall’s identity as a Black man, but the nomination of Clarence Thomas certainly did not respect Marshall’s thinking on the law.
Clarence Thomas is on the complete opposite side of the political spectrum of Marshall — he is currently the most conservative justice, whereas Marshall was a dedicated liberal. This precedent of honoring a judge based on their demographic identity rather than their ideology is dangerous, as it poses a threat to the balance of the Supreme Court and its status as an apolitical body.
Chief Justice John Roberts has been moving increasingly more to the center of the political spectrum throughout Donald Trump’s presidency. Judicial scholars see this as Roberts’s way of balancing the court, as Trump continues to nominate more conservative justices and tip its scale to the right. This underscores the importance of a relatively centrist equilibrium on the court.
In 2016, former President Barack Obama was faced with the task of nominating a justice to fill an open space on the Supreme Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Obama took into account the ideological legacy of Scalia as an ultra-conservative justice and nominated a moderate, Merrick Garland, to fill his seat. Presidents should follow this method and make sure to consider the beliefs of the preceding justice in order to preserve the ideological balance of the court.
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