Less than two weeks ago, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tragically passed away at age 87. Her loss comes as the 2020 Presidential election is entering the final stretch to Nov. 3. In the past four years, President Donald Trump has appointed two justices, after Obama-era nominee Merrick Garland was blocked for over 11 months by Senate Republicans. We now stand on the edge of tipping an already skewed court to the extreme, cementing a conservative activist court for decades. Democrats should throw out every norm to prevent this from happening.
Senate Republicans appear to have enough votes to force a nominee through, either before the election or after, but before inauguration of the next president. As previously stated, Garland was prevented from a single hearing during President Obama’s final term, under the justification that, during years of presidential elections, the Senate should not confirm and instead wait until after the inauguration of the next president. This was unprecedented and a blatant power-grab by the Republican Party. Now they have flipped the script, and are planning the process of confirming a Trump nominee before the inauguration next January. We should not be surprised that the Republican party is willing to abuse institutions and tear up tradition to achieve power. This is the same Republican party that has won the popular vote in only one of the past five Presidential elections, but stole the White House in three of those past five Presidential elections due to the way Electoral College votes are distributed. This is the same Republican Party that forced Brett Kavanaugh through the confirmation process, despite the fact the Democratic senators who opposed the nomination represented millions more voters than the Republicans who voted in favor of him. The Senate and the Electoral College give the Republican Party disproportionate power, and then that power can be abused to take control of other institutions, such as the Supreme Court, the federal judiciary, federal agencies and beyond.
One argument I strongly support is that appealing to norms, decorum and Republican hypocrisy will not stop Ginsburg’s seat from being filled. Senator Lindsey Graham famously said in 2016, in justifying the blocking of Garland’s appointment, that if a vacancy opened up in 2020 under a Republican president, that they should wait until after the election to fill it. He has now entirely contradicted his position and is actively pushing to fill Ginsburg’s old seat. If you are dealing with disingenuous actors, appealing to decency and norms will never work. What Republicans like Graham and Mitch McConnell care about is power. If he and the party must throw out morality, justice, equality, fairness and consistency to achieve that, they will do so without question. Their eagerness to fill Ginsburg’s seat is all the evidence one needs. Feckless Democratic members of Congress seem to believe finger-waving and pearl-clutching is the solution to such provocations, but I disagree.
Democrats are not powerless in this situation. I believe, facing unprecedented actions by the Republican Party, the Democratic Party has a moral mandate to resist by any means necessary. Were the Republicans able to fill Ginsburg’s seat, Democrats could work to impeach one or multiple justices to remove them from the Supreme Court. Democrats could expand the size of the court to counterbalance the far-right actors on the court by an illegitimate president. Democrats could impeach Trump to force Senate proceedings to halt and stall the confirmation process. They could also refuse a concurrent resolution on the budget and threaten a shutdown to exercise leverage. Democrats have options and they should use them.
The real issue, and most frustrating part of this debacle, is not whether or not there are options on the table, but whether any elected official is willing to exercise them. Moderate Democrats, like Nancy Pelosi, and more have already come out against some or all of these measures and have expressed hesitancy to wield their power, including Binghamton’s own representative, Anthony Brindisi. In fact, the sole reason Kavanaugh is currently on the Supreme Court is because Joe Manchin, a “Democratic” senator from West Virginia voted in favor of Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Were it not for Manchin’s vote, Kavanaugh would not have been confirmed. The fact is, playing nice with the party that is willing to tear down the system to get their way will never work.
The Supreme Court, regardless of your preferred system, is what we have at this moment. A situation has emerged where, if Democrats do nothing, the rights of millions will be put into jeopardy. Actions like court-packing and impeachment are plausible short-term solutions, but we can’t kid ourselves. This system is unstable, unjust and fragile from top to bottom. In the long-term, it won’t be neoliberal politicians like Pelosi, Manchin or Brindisi that fix it.
Seth Gully is a junior triple-majoring in philosophy, politics and law, economics and French.