COMMENTARY

The death of Justice Ginsburg and future of Supreme Court

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died yesterday at her home in Washington, D.C., which brought an end to one of the most epic tenures of any justice on the United States Supreme Court.

By any measure, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was history—she made history.

Her death, moreover, comes in the midst of the 2020 presidential election. Make no mistake, this election will now reach a new fever pitch given what is at stake in the death of Justice Ginsburg. Her loss is for the left what the death of Justice Antonin Scalia was for the right in 2016.

Indeed, when it comes to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she not only led the liberal wing of the Supreme Court but was, in many respects, a symbolic leader of liberals in American Constitutional history. She began to assume that role even before her appointment to the Supreme Court. In essence, Ruth Bader Ginsburg had two epic careers in law: one as a law professor and litigator before the Supreme Court and the second as a justice on the Supreme Court.

From a Christian worldview, there is much to consider in the aftermath of Justice Ginsburg’s death. From the onset, we must recognize that a human being has died—a human being who lived her life before the American people for the better part of five decades. She leapt into national consciousness in the early 1970s as head of a legal team on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, where she focused on six historic cases for the equality of women. Indeed, what made Ruth Bader Ginsburg, eventually known as the iconic RBG, was her career as a litigator for feminist causes.

Her success as a litigator led to her appointment by President Jimmy Carter to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the appeals court just under the Supreme Court in terms of prominence. Any judge appointed to the D.C. Circuit is understood as eligible to be promoted to the nation’s highest court, which is exactly what happened for Ruth Bader Ginsburg when, in 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed her to the United States Supreme Court.

Just last year, in a very unusual joint appearance, former President Clinton—who shared the stage with his wife Hillary Clinton as well as Justice Ginsburg—admitted that he had explicitly asked Ginsburg as she was under consideration for nomination to the Supreme Court about the issue of abortion and uphold Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973.

Indeed, as ABC News reported in October of last year, the former president revealed that he conversed with Ginsburg about Roe, saying, “There is one thing we did discuss, and I feel I should tell you because it will illustrate why I thought I should appoint her… Abortion was a big issue in 1992—the right to choose. I was one of the first pro-choice Democrats to run since Roe v. Wade who actually benefited from Roe V. Wade. Now, she didn’t have to say anything about this. She knew this perfectly well, that I was under a lot of pressure to make sure I appointed someone who was Simon-pure, which I had said was important.”

The key issue here was that the former president admitted to doing what he said he did not do back in 1993, which was discuss abortion. Ginsburg’s support for legalized abortion, however, was no surprise to anyone.

In fact, a few weeks ago, Planned Parenthood lauded Justice Ginsburg as it became known that she was fighting for her life against the recurrence of cancer. Planned Parenthood pointed to her steadfast support of abortion rights, which included her opposition to the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act that was signed into law during the presidency of George W. Bush. To be clear, partial-birth abortion is a procedure where a baby, who was either at or near full-term development was partially delivered and aborted at the last minute so that the death of the baby could be categorized as an abortion rather than a homicide.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg reigned as one of the most effective defenders of abortion. She made clear throughout her career that women had a right to an abortion under any and all circumstances. She dismissed any government overreach into the issue on behalf of the dignity and sanctity of unborn life.

What Christians must understand as we assess the life of Justice Ginsburg is this: We tend to fall into patterns of thinking that views our side on an issue as representing the side of principles and convictions, while the other side comes to policy issues with a merely political agenda.

But that is now how worldviews operate.

Indeed, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not a political opportunist. She put her career at risk and staked her life on a specific set of convictions. Her time as a litigator, federal judge, and as a justice for the United States Supreme Court represents a remarkable lifespan of consistency. She operated out of a deep reservoir of conviction, which was why she became lionized and honored by the left.

Christians looking at the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg ought to recognize and respect her courage—a courage that kept her in her role far longer than many could have sustained. Furthermore, Christians ought to grieve with those who lost a loved one. James and Joan, her son and daughter, lost their mother.

But it is not enough to be a person of conviction. It is not enough to be a person of courage. Ruther Bader Ginsburg lived a life of courage, principle, and conviction. She was, however, lamentably wrong in profound ways, especially on the issues of abortion and homosexuality. Ginsburg was committed to a worldview that viewed established structures of morality as oppressive and patriarchal—structures that needed to be dismantled.

Her death, moreover, comes in the middle of a volatile presidential election cycle. This is an explosive political moment. Both Republicans and Democrats understand that the future of the Supreme Court is at stake.

In the final weeks of the 2020 election cycle, Republicans have an opportunity to fill a vacancy on the court in a way that would fundamentally alter the composition of the Supreme Court in a decidedly conservative direction. Republicans could expand the conservative majority on the court from 5 – 4 to 6 – 3. This is a terrifying prospect for Democrats.

This has set up an epic and historic battle in what was already a contentious election. There is no doubt that President Trump will make a nomination to fill the vacancy, and there is now no doubt, thanks to a statement released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that the Senate will move forward on a confirmation process once the nomination is announced. Indeed, Senator McConnell stated, “In the last midterm election, before Justice Scalia's death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame duck president's second term. We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite party president's Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year. By contrast, Americans reelected our majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018, because we pledged to work with President Trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. Once again, we will keep our promise. President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

Elections are unpredictable and are often thrown off by unforeseen events. The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of those events that has now fundamentally shifted the entire narrative around the 2020 election. This election is now not just about a battle for the White House. It is a battle for the balance of power in all branches of government. Never in our nation’s history has this kind of moment occurred. The future of the nation and its central institutions turned on the news of one individual’s death.

Crucial issues are at stake. There is an incredible stewardship invested in the responsibilities of a justice for the United States Supreme Court. The life and legacy of Justice Ginsburg underlines the importance of that stewardship.

And, with her death, it is a stewardship that is now front and center before our nation.

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