Yes — the day we have all feared is fast approaching. With health issues including two cancerous nodules recently removed from her lungs and broken ribs, it seems as if the day Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg must step down is coming quicker than we had hoped. Imagining the court without the “Notorious RBG” requires a dynamic analysis. First, we must assess the effect that Ginsburg uniquely has on the court, and then measure the effect (or damage, as we liberals like to call it) another Trump nominee would have on the rulings of hot-button cases such as gun control and abortion.
Let’s start with what we would be losing if Ruth Bader Ginsburg was no longer an associate justice. Justice Ginsburg is most famously known as a maverick and trailblazer for women’s rights. As one of the first women on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg has made the greatest contribution of any justice towards promoting women’s rights. Ginsburg is known as “the last vestige of an old guard of liberalism,” and is the last pillar holding up the fragile balance between an oppressive court and a fair one.
While Sotomayor, Kagan and Breyer remain associate justices within the court, Ginsburg, being the most senior left-leaning justice, has had a rich history of finding creative new ways to uphold the rights of all marginalized groups, especially women. Whether it be in creating new levels of scrutiny within the law to address gender-based discrimination in United States v. Virginia or protecting the rights of intellectually disabled individuals in Olmstead v. L.C., her legal expertise has created liberty and equality under the law for all Americans.
So, who could possibly replace RBG? In the midst of the Trump presidency, one thing that is certain is that another staunch conservative will be appointed to take the position of an open seat on the court, as was the case with Trump’s two appointments thus far. The additions of accused sexual assailant Brett Kavanaugh and National Rifle Association-endorsed Neil Gorsuch have pointed the court in a decisively more conservative direction even with Ginsburg still there.
Significant ideological differences between Justice Kavanaugh and his predecessor, retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, suggest that narrowly made decisions in favor of women’s rights such as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt and Obergefell v. Hodges would most likely not be upheld had they been argued in the SCOTUS of 2019. Now, if we factor in the removal of Justice Ginsburg and the addition of another fairly conservative justice, the court’s 6-3 conservative majority would definitely favor a right-wing agenda.
Much of this could be seen as just angry words from another paranoid liberal. I mean, how much has the Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee ruling changed the way you brush your teeth every morning? While many people do not readily admit to the large impact of the Supreme Court, just ask yourself — how many normal events that occur in your day-to-day life are affected by an entity of the government? As we move closer to a “nanny state,” we somehow come to find the government in every nook and cranny of our lives, with the consequences of the issues being litigated applicable more to young adults than ever before.
With the tremendous hyperpartisanship in both houses of Congress creating either extreme policies or no policies at all, we end up relying more on the courts to rectify change when desperately needed within the country. Little did you think that the person you are allowed to marry, how you were admitted into college or any higher learning institute and, of course, how much control you have over your body would be decided ultimately by the Supreme Court.
In a sense, how could you not care that Ruth Bader Ginsburg may be leaving the Supreme Court? The issues listed above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Supreme Court cases that Ginsburg has played an integral role on. Call this some sort of emotional ode to the woman herself, but if you are an individual who cares about equality, women’s rights and expanding the rights of the people, there is so much to be concerned about with this woman leaving because, frankly, nobody can do what she does.
Was my goal in writing this piece to scare you? No. Though my words may seem to imply the potential for a large negative shift in a young adult’s life if RBG were to retire during the Trump presidency, the truth is that we all should be realistic about the effect this woman has had in our lives and on our country.
With so much trust based in the Supreme Court as the arbiter for partisan-poisoned politics, there is lots of room for things to go wrong. And while I can cite cases RBG presided over that may not have elicited the best result, the resolve and the commitment of Ginsburg has remained a ray of sunshine on dark days. Maybe America will see another maverick in the future, or maybe the seemingly “alt-right” conservative ideology of the court will be cemented for decades to come. Only time will tell what lies in the future.
Ambika Sinha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org