The venerated Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed from this earth Friday evening, igniting what may be the most ferocious political battle of our time. Democrats and Republicans are staking out their positions and digging in, preparing for a pre-election onslaught that may overshadow November’s contest both in terms of spectacle and significance. But what makes this fight different? Why are pundits across the spectrum predicting a fight for the ages in the coming confirmation hearing? The answer is really quite simple.
Twenty-nine times in history, a seat on the nation’s highest court has come open during an election year. Twenty-nine times in history, the incumbent president has nominated a successor, and pushed for his/her confirmation prior to the election. The left is purporting that Trump’s decision to move forward is undemocratic, and somehow defies precedent. The opposite is true. It would be entirely unprecedented for a sitting president not to make a swift nomination to replace a late or retiring justice. Most recently, lame duck President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and the same Republicans who opposed Obama’s nominee will now support Trump’s, while the same Dems who supported Obama will fight Trump with all they have. Thus is the nature of power politics. That isn’t undemocratic or the result of political devolution, it is the way it is supposed to work. Elected officials vote to represent the will of those who elected them.
The Supreme Court holds greater power and significance now than ever before. Throughout American history, congress has on average overruled the Court twelve times per every two year term. In recent years, that number has dwindled to two times per term. This is the result of our increasingly partisan and dysfunctional congress. When one branch won’t do its job, it empowers the others to fill the power vacuum.
Additional significance is granted to this vacancy by the ideological gap between the late Ginsburg and whoever Trump would nominate. Ginsburg for decades has defended the left flank of the court. A Trump nominee, say Amy Coney Barrett, would significantly shift the makeup of the court to the right, giving Republican appointees a 6-3 advantage on the Court.
Political battles are complex, their motivations myriad. The great political consultant James Carville effectively cut through the bull with his presidential candidate Bill Clinton, often reminding his campaign team, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Today, it’s abortion, stupid. That’s what this fight is really, ultimately about. For the first time in decades, Roe v. Wade is in jeopardy of erasure, and both parties know it. A conservative supermajority on the court will no doubt trigger challenge after challenge to decades of precedent in abortion law, and likely would strike down many protections for the act. A dysfunctional congress will have no recourse, as the democrats’ golden calf comes crumbling down.
I hear the calls for more decorum, for less partisanship and more consistency from the senate, and those are valid. But I also feel the weight of 60 million dead, an ocean of blood from the unborn swallowing our wayward nation like a rising tide of condemnation. In this revolutionary epoch, we tear down statues and gloat in the erasure of historical figures who violate the morality of our day. How confident we are that some day our grandchildren won’t be ashamed, disgusted by us and our tacit approval of the slaughter of a generation of Americans, an enormously disproportionate amount of which have been African American. Decorum is important. Partisan tensions are frighteningly high. But all of this is superseded by the red stain of abortion. The stakes are too high to back down here. The Senate must confirm President Trump’s appointee with haste.