Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized again this past week, this time for fever and chills. In the past year alone Justice Ginsburg has undergone treatment for cancer, not once but twice. To say that her health is in a precarious state is not an overstatement.
What we should all understand is that no matter which side of the ideological divide you’re perched on, her health is of national importance. She is a lynchpin in the ideological direction that our country will take in the coming decades.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of the most celebrated and popular people in America—indeed, a cultural icon. In the past couple of years she has become the darling of the media, as evidenced by the fact that both a documentary, RBG, and a fictionalized movie, On the Basis of Sex, have been made about her life.
But this is just popularity and not why she is so crucially important. Instead, it is because she is a pivot in the history in America. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a liberal Supreme Court Justice at a moment when the balance between Liberal and Conservative is at a tipping point, not only in the Supreme Court, but in politics and society in general. One pundit predicted that, “the United States faces a sixty-per-cent chance of civil war over the next ten to fifteen years.” Even if we discount the hyperbole of an imminent civil war in America, we can safely state that we are on the cusp of a social turning point. What does this have to do with Ginsburg?
In 1993 President Bill Clinton selected her to fill the seat vacated by Justice Byron White. Clinton wanted a replacement with both the intellect and political skills that would enable them to deal with the conservative members of the Supreme Court. One of only nine women at Harvard Law School in 1956, Ginsburg, ever the pioneer of equal rights and other social issues, succeeded brilliantly in fulfilling Clinton’s hopes.
When Scalia died in 2015, Obama tried to appoint a replacement Justice. The process for this was even more strategically complicated than usual: “Under typical circumstances, this wouldn’t be such a big deal. But Scalia, the court’s most influential conservative, died in President Obama’s final year in office, in the middle of the court’s term, with the candidates to succeed him fighting through the early primary season.”
At the time of Scalia’s death, the Republicans controlled the Senate and had the power to block any of Obama’s undoubtedly liberal nominees. Within an hour after Scalia’s death was confirmed, McConnell blocked a possible replacement appointment with all the ferocity generated by the awareness of what was at stake for the Republicans. The Obama administration was expecting some stalling measures for sure, “but didn’t imagine the combative GOP leader would issue an instant, categorical rejection of anyone Obama chose to nominate.” McConnell alleged that, “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”.
Obama countered with, “They [the nine Justices of the Supreme Court] are bigger than any one party. They are about our democracy. They are about the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his professional life, to make sure it functions as the beacon of justice that our founders envisioned.”
Beautiful rhetoric on both sides, but beyond the self-serving palaver, everyone knew that the battle was really about whether the Supreme Court, which with Scalia’s death counted 4 Justices as Conservatives and 4 as Liberals, was in a deadlock and the new appointee would quite literally determine decisions that would shape the nation for decades.
McConnell succeeded in blocking any nomination for the final year of Obama’s tenure, but within days of Trump’s election Neil Gorsuch, Conservative, was nominated and eventually, after a long battle, confirmed as the 9th Justice. “McConnell went ‘nuclear’ to confirm Gorsuch.” Later, Brett Kavanaugh another conservative, replaced the retiring Anthony Kennedy. Currently, “the [Supreme] court has a 5-4 conservative majority, and two of the four liberal justices are over 80 years old, including Stephen Breyer, who turned 81 last month.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 86 and in progressively perilous health. If she were to die on Trump’s watch—a distinct possibility—Trump and his right-wing cronies would appoint another Conservative. As we all know, Supreme Court Justices serve for life or voluntary retirement. Their decisions shape society for generations. Witness the momentous effects of Roe v. Wade, the ERA, or the Civil Rights laws.
It is obvious to anyone who’s watching, that Trump has been assiduously rolling back liberal policies regarding every aspect of society: laws that affect climate change, immigration, women’s rights, the LBGTQ community. Politico writes that, “his administration has been ushering in a new conservative era of government” and lists 138 such measures or rollbacks just in the first year of Trump’s presidency. Targeted in particular are all those laws made or enacted under the watch of his nemesis, Barack Obama. In “Yes, Roe really is in trouble,” we read that, “the newly empowered conservative majority, entrenched by President Trump in the wake of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, will use the opportunity to finally strike down Roe v. Wade.”
The headline, “Mitch McConnell says he would seek to confirm a Trump Supreme Court pick in 2020 if a vacancy opened, after he refused to do it in 2016” says it all. He would ensure that a replacement would be pushed through before Trump leaves office. If this were to happen, we can be sure that Roe v. Wade would be overturned, as might also be the case for same-sex marriage and other human rights. Not to mention any legislation having to do with the environment.
This being the case, if you’re a Liberal or a Moderate, you should pray for Ginsburg’s continued health.