Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s remarkable career ended with her death on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. An icon for liberals, Ginsburg stood with “the outsider in society … telling them that they have a place in our legal system,” as President Bill Clinton described her when he nominated her to the Supreme Court in 1993.
Ginsburg was also a proud, self-identified Jew. Her status among Jewish liberals borders on veneration. And her very public battle to overcome medical challenges and stay on the bench through the coming election was the stuff of legend, even though her effort failed.
Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat was still warm when the political battle to fill it began. President Donald Trump promised to move forward quickly, while Democrats leaned heavily on past history to encourage delay. On Saturday, Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit as Ginsburg’s replacement.
Barrett is a conservative, and if she is confirmed, the balance on the nation’s highest court will tilt decidedly rightward — a result that will almost certainly further aggravate an already highly divided electorate. Nonetheless, most Republicans in the Senate, the body the U.S. Constitution gives the power to advise and consent on nominations, have said they’re ready to vote on the nominee now.
Democrats are understandably upset. Four years ago, President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused even to conduct hearings on the nomination, claiming that at nine months before the presidential election, the process should wait until the people chose their new leaders.
But that was then, and this is now. Now, just six weeks before the election, McConnell says there’s no good reason for delay. The only consistency between 2016 and 2020 is that McConnell has the votes to achieve his objective — something he and his party faithful have every right to do. Just as Trump has the right to nominate the person of his choice, no matter how much it rankles his opponents.
There is added benefit for Republicans in their pursuit of the Barrett nomination. It helps shift the focus of the coming election away from the president’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis to discussion of filling the Ginsburg seat and Trump’s remarkable success in appointing conservative judges to the federal judiciary.
In his 2016 campaign, Trump promised to appoint conservative judges. He has delivered on that promise, having appointed nearly 25% of all active federal judges, including two of the current eight members of the Supreme Court. And for Republicans — even those who find the president distasteful — that record is a meaningful source of pride.
The confirmation process for Judge Barrett will be bitter and ugly. And there will be aspects of the fight that will likely be cringeworthy. But we are a nation of laws. And the Constitution allows for this process. Conservatives will celebrate. This is exactly what they elected Trump to do.