The news that came last Friday night was a gut punch to those who care about equal rights for women, and the fair administration of justice.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died at the age of 87 after fighting cancer for 21 years, anchored the liberal wing of a sharply divided court. But equally important was her previous career as an advocate for women’s equality, and especially the cases she argued for the ACLU.
Ginsburg argued the key cases that established the legal groundwork for laws that for the first time applied the Constitutional guarantees of equal treatment to the issue of gender equality. She argued against the laws that for centuries, as she said, kept women in “a cage pretending to be a pedestal.”
She has left us during an angry and fractious political moment, as divided as any in the past 50 years, and she was deeply troubled by the collapse of collegiality in political discourse and public life. She was determined to model a collegial spirit on the court, and she cautioned activists to fight for beliefs in a manner that would bring others with you.
But shortly after her death was announced, U.S. Senate Republicans provided a stark counterexample to the model of civility and court tradition that she endorsed. They are not even waiting for the ceremonies of her departure to be finished, including lying in repose in the Supreme Court, before starting the fight over the appointment of a new justice.
Ginsburg’s deathbed wish was that the appointment wait until a new president is inaugurated. But on the evening of her death on Rosh Hashanah, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would move forward with a nomination and vote on a new Supreme Court justice.
The Kentucky senator, who broke all the rules and trampled Senate process by refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland because it was supposedly too close – 261 days – to the 2016 election, now will proceed on a nomination 45 days before an election, when voting has already started in several states.
Maine U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, fighting for her political life in this crucial election, could play a pivotal role in stopping this dangerous farce. Instead, she walked both sides of the fence in a statement issued over the weekend that was a real head-scratcher.
On one hand, Collins said the winner of the November election should nominate the new justice. But she also said, in a gesture to McConnell, that if the president wants to nominate someone now and begin the process of hearings, she would not stand in the way. This leaves everybody free to do whatever they want if the matter is voted on in a post-election lame-duck session, which seems likely.
So for Mainers, our first effort to carry on the lessons of RBG should be keeping the pressure on Collins, and we should redouble our efforts to elect Democrats on Nov. 3. If the Democrats do take over, it is worth considering reforms to the Supreme Court, such as term limits.
We need to keep up the fight, to work for justice and the hope that on Nov. 3 we can start to restore this fragile democracy.