The Implications of Justice Ginsburg’s Death

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died from complications of pancreatic cancer on Friday, Sept. 18, just six weeks before the presidential election. A replacement for the liberal justice will have serious implications for an array of cases the Supreme Court will hear in the near future. 

Ginsburg’s death afforded President Trump the opportunity to nominate a third conservative justice to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, affecting the way the Court will rule for decades to come.

The addition of a sixth conservative justice could tip the scales on some particularly hot-button issues, namely the Affordable Care Act, discrimination laws, and women’s rights. Chief Justice John Roberts would no longer hold the controlling vote in cases often split along partisan lines. 

Joseph Patten, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Political Science, remarked, “Ginsburg really kept the conservative-majority court balanced for a long time.”  

Ginsburg served the Court since her appointment by President Bill Clinton (D-AR) in 1993. Throughout her tenure, she contributed to decisions that supported and furthered women’s rights, civil rights, and the termination of unlawful search and seizure.

“It is important to understand that Ginsburg was for human rights, not just women’s rights,” said Jennifer McGovern, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Sociology. Some of the first cases Ginsburg fought were for men; she argued that property tax laws for widows and widowers should apply equally. 

“She is most known for women’s rights because during her time as a lawyer and in the Court, women were still being excluded in large numbers from many institutions. Many of the cases she was involved with opened up new opportunities to women, such as in the military,” McGovern said. 

The filling of Ginsburg’s seat with a conservative justice would likely have far-reaching effects regarding the very same issues for which she was a proponent, like women’s rights and civil rights. “If it’s brought up before the Supreme Court for review, the decision of Roe v. Wade would very likely be overturned by the 6-3 conservative majority,” said Patten, “even if Chief Justice Roberts were to rule against it, it would still be 5-4.”

Kailey Monteiro, a senior social work student, cited the first clause in the bill of rights, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” so Barrett’s nomination is a “dangerous one.”

There is nothing wrong with having personal, religious beliefs but Barrett brings those beliefs into politics, threatening reproductive healthcare. “In her position, she holds power that can drastically effect women’s access to contraceptives, safe abortions, and more,” Monteiro said. 

Patten believes Barrett will end up being confirmed before the election, and that it could possibly have unintended positive and negative effects for Trump’s reelection campaign. “Trump’s pick of Amy Coney Barrett could end up doing one of two things,” he explained. “It could end up energizing his current voter base. Or, on the other hand, something I’m not sure was considered by [Trump], the controversy with Barrett’s nomination might alienate more moderate Trump voters and cause them to shift their vote.”

From a historical perspective, Ryan Tetro, a Lecturer of Political Science, finds the nomination process fascinating, as it is taking place at a historical speed.

Several Democratic Senators have refused to meet with Barrett, and only two Republican Senators have publicly stated they want to wait until after the election to confirm a new justice. “Absent the existence of a currently-silent opposition among the other 51 Republicans in the Senate, Judge Barrett has a very good chance of being confirmed before the election,” Tetro said. 

“If Barrett is appointed,” said Patten, “the composition of the Court would change for years to come.”

McGovern also commented on the open spot. “Given the way that the vacancy has turned into a political battle, I hope that Ginsburg’s passing inspires politicians to work towards finding a solution that has clear rules for nominating justices with respect to election timelines.”