EDITORIAL: Honor iconic judge’s wish
Such is the state of politics these days that news of the passing of legendary Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Friday was quickly followed less by mournful reflection on her life and career than by partisan debate over how quickly to fill the considerable vacancy she leaves.
Let us not make that same mistake here.
With the death of Ginsburg, the high court loses its left-leaning lodestar, liberalism loses a wise and influential jurist, women lose a path-clearing role model and America loses a public figure who brought clarity, insight and honor to her role on the bench.
Even had Ginsburg not been nominated as the second woman to serve on the high court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, her place in history would have been secure. A pioneering opponent of gender inequality, Ginsburg was a tireless and effective voice for women and women’s rights long before coming to public prominence.
As general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in the 1970s, she argued hundreds of gender discrimination cases, including half a dozen before the Supreme Court. Using the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, Ginsburg successfully made the case for reversing laws that treated women as second-class citizens.
She continued to champion gender equality from the bench, first on the D.C. Appellate Court from 1980-93, then on the Supreme Court, but she did not limit concern for those fighting injustice to women. She was an opponent of discrimination of all types, dogged in defending affirmative action, minority voting rights and equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation.
Her persuasive and piercing arguments from the bench — her dissents no less than her concurring opinions — made her not only a progressive beacon but a rarity among those who have donned the high court’s black robes: a celebrity.
“The Notorious RBG” was the subject of books and documentaries, her visage, complete with distinctive collar, adorning coffee mugs and T-shirts. She was beloved as much as admired.
Which is why thousands flocked to the Supreme Court Building in Washington on Friday night following word of her death: an impromptu gathering of supporters, grateful for all that Justice Ginsburg had achieved, mournful that her journey was at an end.
“They saw her as a legend, after all,” wrote Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse. “A shield. A bulwark. One of the few things standing between marginalized communities and the forces that would harm them.”
Even as those mourners gathered, chanting “RIP, RBG” and singing “Amazing Grace,” the “forces that would harm them” were already at work.
Hours before she died, 87-year-old Ginsburg issued a statement: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected that wish within an hour of Ginsburg’s passing. The Kentucky Republican — who infamously refused to take up President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland following the February 2016 death of longtime justice, and Ginsburg pal, Antonin Scalia — vowed to hold a vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee despite the vacancy coming just six weeks before the election.
Hypocrisy doesn’t even begin to cover this level of partisan gamesmanship; someone will have to invent a better word.
McConnell and Trump’s craven eagerness is no surprise. The question is, assuming filibuster rules are once again conveniently set aside, will the full contingent of 53 GOP senators go along? Several — Lindsey Graham, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and others — have previously declared they would not support a last-minute nominee, which, of course, ensures nothing.
And what of Pennsylvania’s Sen. Pat Toomey? His statement on the passing of Ginsburg was appropriately laudatory and — unlike some his colleagues’ — classily bereft of any mention of nominating a new justice.
Republican Toomey argued in March 2016 against filling the Scalia vacancy in deference to the pending election — which was then eight months out. Consistency would dictate he hold the same view in 2020, 46 days before the vote.
America shall soon see whether Toomey and his GOP brethren are consistent or blithely opportunistic.
As senators wrestle with their position, they should keep this in mind: There could be no greater way to acknowledge the considerable legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg than by honoring her dying wish.