I don’t know if I should be amazed or startled by the shockwaves sent through our country by the death of one national figure.
I’m speaking, of course, of the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the famous United States Supreme Court justice. Some people my age and younger – the millennials and the following generations – know her better as “the notorious RBG,” a moniker she earned because of her legal brilliance and strength in the face of multiple health crises. This persona was built upon by the fantastic Kate McKinnon skits on “Saturday Night Live” and also by “On the Basis of Sex,” a 2018 autobiographical feature film, along with a documentary, numerous books and various pieces of merchandise.
Please understand that I’m not downplaying the justice’s death by any means. Ginsburg was incredibly significant in United States history and is particularly known for her leadership on numerous crucial issues facing women, both past and present. She should be celebrated, and she should be mourned. Those items aren’t in dispute.
What concerns me is how disruptive the death of a long-ailing 87-year-old is to our political system. I could spend this column arguing for term limits and age limitations on judiciary service, but I won’t waste column inches. I don’t think those limits will become a reality, even though everyone I speak with seems to have the same thoughts. What I will opine on is the sharp divide Ginsburg’s death is only reinforcing.
The Democrats and Republicans are miles apart on every issue facing our great land, and there seems to be no consensus to be found. Ginsburg’s death has set up the battlefield for a nasty war over her replacement, and the Republicans have backed themselves into a moral corner with their 2016 stance on an Obama nomination for the court.
If you’ll recall, then-President Obama, a Democrat who was blocked from re-election by presidential term limits, nominated Merrick Garland to the court in March of that year, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, stopped the Senate from even discussing the nomination. McConnell said at the time that a president should refrain from nominating a Supreme Court justice during a presidential election year.
Well, the tables have now turned on McConnell, and the Senate is in the same predicament it faced back in 2016. We’re only weeks away from a presidential election, and the only difference is that the president is now a Republican. Republicans still control the Senate, and they’re now arguing that President Trump has the right – and the privilege – to nominate a replacement for Ginsburg as soon as possible. McConnell has said the body will consider the nomination this year and may do so even before the election.
I’m not denying that the president has the right to replace Ginsburg. What concerns me, however, is the hypocrisy in McConnell’s stance now versus his stance in 2016. The Senate operates with many rules and precedents, and McConnell set a new precedent in 2016 when he shelved Garland’s nomination. He shot himself in the foot then, and he should have the decency to stand by his actions and use the same M.O. this year.
Decency is a lost word in American politics, and the Kentucky senator has the unique chance to inject some back into our political system during this Supreme Court nomination scuffle. He should do like he did in 2016 and hold any presidential nomination until voters have a chance to speak at the ballot box in just a few weeks. If voters re-elect Trump, the nomination can certainly move forward, but if Joe Biden is elected, McConnell should respect his own precedent and shelve the nomination. He should certainly resist any urge to jam a nominee through a lame duck period that could follow the election.
McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans have only themselves to blame for their current dilemma.
I hope they’ll consider their 2016 actions and see that any sudden movements with the Supreme Court this year will only further divide the country.
Joshua Wilson is the editor of The Pine Belt News and Signature Magazine.