The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg means America’s decades-long fight for reproductive rights now hangs in the balance. But will Donald Trump honour Ginsburg’s dying wish?
Donald Trump has paid tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, describing his political and ideological opponent on the US Supreme Court as “an amazing woman”.
Reacting to news of the 87-year-old’s death from cancer yesterday, the US president said that “whether you agreed [with her] or not” he was saddened to hear about Ginsburg’s passing.
A formidable advocate for gender equality, Ginsburg’s death comes at a critical juncture for US politics, particularly in regards to its bitter and decade-long fight over abortion.
With weeks to go to the November 3 election, and with Democratic challenger Joe Biden inching past his incumbent in the polls, Trump is well-aware that he may have only a narrow window to appoint a pro-life replacement for Ginsburg.
Barack Obama has already urged his successor not to do this, pointing to the precedent set when he was blocked from filling a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016, eight months before Trump’s shock victory over Hillary Clinton in the polls.
At the time, Senate majority leader and Trump ally Mitch McConnell said it was “inappropriate” for Obama to fill the opening so close to an election. However, he now appears happy to contradict his own argument, putting out a statement today that welcomed a Trump nominee to a vote in the Senate.
Trump himself then signalled that he would push ahead with a new Republican-backed nominee in an update on Twitter.
The news will be greeted with dismay by Democrat supporters of Ginsburg, who has been a powerful champion of liberal values in America’s highest court ever since her appointment by Bill Clinton in 1993.
Given that Trump’s last recommendation to the Supreme Court was Brett Kavanaugh, a man that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified attempted to rape her (an accusation he denies), his opponents are understandably on edge about what happens now.
With a grim record of sexual assault claims himself (just two days ago, model Amy Dorris added to a growing list of complainants with a claim that the president groped her), Trump is no champion of women.
Worse still, he looks set to roll back the clock on the rights that Ginsburg worked her entire life for.
Ever since he took office four years ago, Trump has sought to restrict women’s right to abortion, with an alarming clamp-down on funding and access to reproductive healthcare.
Pro-choice campaigners fear that appointing a conservative replacement for Ginsburg at this point could lead to Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that gave American women the right to abortion, being overturned – with implications that will continue to impact women 20 or 30 years from now.
If this happens, it “would turn back the advances in women’s rights and civil rights that Justice Ginsburg devoted her entire career to,” Leah Litman, a constitutional law professor at the University of Michigan, tells Bloomberg. “It is impossible to overstate how significant this could be.”
Biden and the Clintons are among those who have added to a clamour of voices calling on Trump to delay the nominee process until after the election; but their pleas are likely to fall on deaf ears.
Ginsburg, meanwhile, was well aware of the devastating blow her death would deal to women’s justice in the US. In a statement from her deathbed, she told her granddaughter that “my most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed”.
Trump, for all his talk of an “amazing woman” is likely to ride roughshod right through that wish. But what of the rest of us?
If Ginsburg’s legacy taught us anything, it’s that we all have a voice. “If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself,” the judge once said. “Something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you.” (Ginsburg was all too aware of the way in which abortion restrictions hit low-income women the hardest).
As Ginsburg’s fellow feminist torchbearer, Gloria Steinem, tells us: “She left us a clear and precious legacy. It’s up to us to keep her spirit alive.”
We can’t know how Ginsburg’s death will affect the already-imperiled rights of women in America. But we owe it to her, the most vocal of feminist warriors, to carry on fighting the good fight all the same.
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