Replacements and Rhetoric

With the death of long-time Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the battle over her replacement begins. At least the public battle. Have no fear, folks on both sides of the political aisle have long been considering how this would go down, and her unfortunate failing health in the last year only accelerated those back room discussions. But now that she’s gone, you and I begin to be privy to the battle over her replacement.

The battle is accentuated because Ginsburg was noted for her steadfast ideological concerns over issues of reproductive health and gender. It’s unfortunate that the career of anyone should be boiled down to issues that probably occupied a relatively small percentage of her 27-year tenure, but there it is. Those who share her ideological views are adamant that her successor must embody those same ideological views and carry on her legacy. Those who disagree with her ideology see an opportunity to create long-lasting change in the Supreme Court.

Obviously, this disagreement is going to cause problems. And the problems have already begun. Prominent liberals are already threating violence if RBG’s seat is filled by the Republican controlled Senate and Oval Office prior to the election (and before the possibility of a shift in control to the Democrats of one or both branches of government).

Speaking of government and branches. Y’all remember your basic civics lessons, right? The division of our government into three different branches – Executive, Legislative and Judicial? Checks and balances, to ensure that no one person or group gains to great control over things? And as part of this checks and balances system, Supreme Court vacancies are filled by Presidential appointment with Senate approval (a process some have humorously expanded)?

It’s all about balance, presumably. And the funny thing about balance is that it’s rarely a matter of stasis. Like driver’s education used to teach, staying between the lane markers requires constant adjustments, which means at any given point in time you might be straying a bit to the left or a bit to the right, but through constant corrections you hopefully stay in your own lane and don’t go veering off the road. Or into someone else.

Ginsburg apparently forgot this concept when she allowed herself to disparage the process of checks and balances and judicial appointments. And both she and her supporters conveniently forget (and the media certainly isn’t going to help us with a pertinent history lesson) that Ginsburg replaced someone else, a Supreme Court justice by the name of Byron White. White was appointed to the Supreme Court by John F. Kennedy. White cast a dissenting vote in Roe v. Wade, meaning he voted against legalizing abortion. He also voted not only to outlaw capital punishment but to reinstate it under allegedly better legal conditions.

So Ginsburg herself hardly carried on the ideological bent of her predecessor. I’m sure if someone had suggested to her at any point in her career that her duty was to carry on the ideological leanings of a particular predecessor, she would have dismissed the idea as ludicrous and odious. It’s unfortunate if she really did express a desire that the process should be short-circuited intentionally, and that others would take the opinion or wish of any single person, no matter how beloved, as a pretext for a call to violence on a national level.

Supreme Court appointments are usually passionate affairs, at least in the last 40 years. The decisions have long-term effects on judicial rulings that impact law on a national level. It’s right that people want to see someone they agree with given the honor of serving in this capacity. But it’s unconscionable that anyone would advocate violence or a deliberate disrespect of the mechanisms that protect all of us by rule of law. Our elected legislators are quite good at utilizing or inventing all manner of mechanisms to sway things in their preferred direction, and there has only been one Supreme Court Justice nominated to the position in an election year (early in 1988, rather than a month or two before the election). But to call for violence, as though the law of the land has now become mob rule or might-makes-right is a sign of just how dangerous our current cultural and societal situation is.

And a sign of how important the law has become – or not become – whether at the Supreme Court level or otherwise.

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