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Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Her Legacy, Her Impact, and the Challenge Surrounding Her Replacement

At age 87, after 40 years of service in the US Federal Court System, Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on September 18th, 2020 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. As a known women’s rights advocate and friend to many, she will be dearly missed. Although Ginsburg is more recently known for her work in the Federal Supreme Court, she had a long history of working in lesser courts of law. Early in her career, she was enrolled at Harvard University before she transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated first in her class, later becoming a professor there. It was there that she wrote the very first law journal on women’s rights and official textbook on sexual discrimination. Furthermore, she was the first woman to receive tenure in the school’s history.

Initially, Ginsburg’s gender stemmed her career development due to judges’ hesitation to hire women. Due to this, her “favorite Columbia professor explicitly refused to recommend” any more graduates to U.S. District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri until he hired Ginsburg as a clerk. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Columbia Appeals Circuit Courts. A decade later, she was nominated to become a Supreme Court Justice by Bill Clinton in June 1990, where she maintained her judicial duties for thirty years, only stopped by her death.

Over her three decades of service to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), Ginsburg racked up a large docket of accomplishments. Until 2018, she had not missed a single day of oral arguments, and has written the majority opinion on multiple influential cases. Many of these, including but not limited to U.S. v. Virginia, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and Olmstead v. L.C, ruled in favor of supporting improved rights, pay, and support for women and the mentally ill. While it is difficult to document for all of her accomplishments, one thing is certain: her seat will be a difficult one to fill.

A few days after Ginsburg’s death, President Donald Trump already began the process of replacing her. In her place, President Trump nominated Federal Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett. A graduate from Notre Dame Law school and mother of 7, Barrett is the third SCOTUS nomination from President Trump in his first term. Controversy has arisen from this choice due not only to the candidate, but to precedent: in 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel blocked Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland. During that process, the Democratic Party claimed that since the president had the constitutional right to nominate a justice, he should use it, whereas the Republican Party argued that “the people should choose the next Supreme Court Justice” by voting in the new president in the next election instead of filling the seat at the time. Ironically, both parties have completely swapped stances on this issue now that their roles are reversed.

Although the Senate is not currently meeting due to multiple senators contracting COVID-19, it is likely that President Trump’s nomination will pass through the Senate without much trouble. This is concerning for the Democrat Party, as the addition of Amy Coney Barrett who leans conservatively will set the balance of the Supreme Court at 3 liberal and 6 conservative justices. Many Democrats have expressed concern that this will result in the overturning of Roe V. Wade and similar cases. Due to this influx of conservative justices, the U.S will likely face a historical overturning of decisions previously made by the Supreme Court that was largely liberal for the past 50 years, Including 2nd Amendment rights, Polling/Voting laws, LGBTQ+ rights, and more. While not much is known about the true implications of this new Supreme Court makeup, it is sure that it will stir up American politics in the near future. 

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