A Supreme Court Vacancy that Will Shape a Generation

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s sudden death left a deeply divided country in shock. Only weeks until a tumultuous presidential election, America was thrown into a political turmoil. In recent years, the Supreme Court has become ever more politicized and whichever party is in power at the time of a Justice’s death or retirement has the power to shape the country for decades.

The Supreme Court interprets existing laws and precedents to determine whether laws and actions are legal. The issue? All of their decisions are subjective. The way Justices interpret the Constitution, existing laws, and legal precedents will determine the Court’s decisions. The Supreme Court can and does change its own rulings as the Justices change over time. 

Everything becomes more complicated with the process of appointing a new Justice. The President chooses a Judge then presents their nominee to the Senate. After hearings on how the Justice has ruled on previous cases and how they interpret the law, the Senate votes on whether or not to confirm the Justice. The problem is that the President will choose a Justice who aligns with their views and the Senate will confirm a Justice that also aligns with the majority of Senator’s views. Whoever is in control of the White House and the Senate gets to choose Justices. If one party controls the Senate and another controls the White House, then the parties must try to find enough votes to confirm or not confirm the judge.

Complicated enough? Here’s where things get really sticky.

In 2015, within a year of the 2016 election Justice Antonin Scalia died. President Obama nominated a moderate judge to the Court but the Senate would not confirm him. Republicans held a Senate majority and refused to hold a vote to confirm or reject Obama’s nominee. They argued that the President should not be able to appoint Justices in the last year of their term. The Constitution does give Presidents the right to appoint Justices anytime in their term, but Republicans hoped to change how appointments were conducted. Fast-forward to the present. Justice Ginsburg dies within weeks of the Presidential election. According to the precedent set by Republicans in 2015, President Trump should not be allowed to appoint a Justice; however, the majority of Senate Republicans now say they will allow Trump to appoint Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Court.

Two Senate Republicans, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, have opposed the nomination. However, Democrats will still not have enough votes to stop the appointment. 

Barrett is a conservative judge who opposes abortion rights, gun safety laws, and the Affordable Care Act. Many activists for women’s, civil, LGBTQIA+, and immigration rights are concerned about how her potential rulings could undo decades of protections for some of the most vulnerable Americans.

Political analysts have questioned how this will impact voters in the upcoming election. While many liberal voters are enraged at the appointment, many conservative voters may also be energized to vote to continue the placement of conservative voices on judicial benches across the country.

By Amira Pierotti

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