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The loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the political storm ahead

On Friday night, upon receiving the news of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, I was devastated: my biggest role model had passed away. Justice Ginsburg’s work for the feminist movement is the reason I changed my major from Psychology to Anthropology and decided I wanted to go to law school.

Though short in stature, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a legal and judicial giant. She graduated first in her class at Columbia Law School and became the second female law professor at Rutgers. She co-founded the first women’s rights law journal and was the first director of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. Perhaps most notably, Justice Ginsburg argued six cases in front of the Supreme Court, winning five before her nomination to the Court in 1993. She also made quite a name for herself as Supreme Court Justice with her formidable dissents, both in the legal world and in pop culture as the Notorious RBG.

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My tearful admiration for Justice Ginsburg’s inspiring legal career was abruptly interrupted when I went on social media, however, and faced the reality of the current moment. Already, the political quarrels had begun. Defying Justice Ginsburg’s final wish, President Trump and Republican leaders in the Senate have announced plans to nominate a new justice before November in a complete abandonment of the precedent set by Mitch McConnell in February of 2016, when he refused to consider Barack Obama’s nominee following the death of Justice Scalia. If February of an election year was considered “too close” for a nomination of a new justice, there is absolutely no reason that in September, less than two months out from election day, a President should be able to nominate a new justice. The hypocrisy and partisanship amidst such a national tragedy is unthinkable.

So, while I desperately wish we could mourn the passing of Justice Ginsburg properly, there is too much work to do. We have to pick up where she left off in the fight for equality and the preservation of our democracy.

The fact of the matter is, our democracy has been in jeopardy for the past four years. We currently have a federal government which represents less than half the country, thanks to an electoral college with a “winner-take-all” system, whether the margin is by one vote or a million. This means battleground states are weighted significantly more in close elections, like that of 2016. This problem extends outside the executive branch. In the Senate, the Democratic “minority” represents at least 15 million more people than the Republican “majority.” Now, with the Supreme Court likely leaning toward a six-to-three conservative majority, this undemocratic era will likely affect American politics for decades.

The stakes of this moment are clear. Although the passing of such a prominent champion of gender equality and democracy should be a time of remembrance and celebration of life, it is instead a time of paralyzing fear for millions of Americans. Women around the country fear the loss of Justice Ginsburg’s seat in the Supreme Court could mean the end of Roe v. Wade, the case in which women were given the right to have an abortion. Women may even lose the right to birth control. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have lost a major judicial ally in the fight for equal rights. Millions of Americans who depend upon Obamacare could also lose access to inexpensive healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.

Further, a conservative-dominated Supreme Court could mean the expansion of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, an end to race-based affirmative action, and an overturning of Obama’s DACA immigration policy. A conservative Supreme Court could further delay action on climate and uphold the Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks. We have seen how the current administration has dismissed the threats of climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, which have both disrupted millions of American lives. We cannot afford to have our political leaders actively denying science and threatening basic human rights.

The next 40-something days leading up to the election are crucial for the well-being of our democracy. President Trump’s attempts to thwart the election process through slowing down the mail, lying about voter fraud, and encouraging voters to vote twice; his threats to refuse to accept an election loss, and his comments about ending the two-term limit, must be taken seriously. As John Dean, White House counsel to President Nixon and a co-conspirator in the Watergate scandal, warned, “If we get four more years of [Trump], then our democracy will be gone.”

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It is essential, now more than ever, to take action and to be civically engaged. Demand that your senators do not confirm a new Supreme Court justice until after the election. So far, two Republican senators have already refused to confirm a new Supreme Court justice until after the election, putting the vote to 51–49 in favor of confirmation. Write to your representatives about the issues you care about. Be sure to register to vote in the next couple of weeks if you are eligible. And most importantly of all, cast your ballot come November. Channel your inner RBG and fight for your democracy and what you believe in.

I am saddened by how such the loss of a remarkable advocate has been so highly politicized, even if it was to be expected. I hope we can all remember and honor the incredible life Ruth Bader Ginsburg led. I hope her dedication and drive can inspire us all to take a stand for what we believe in. Thank you for everything you’ve done, Justice Ginsburg. We will take it from here.

Hannah Reynolds is a junior in the anthropology department. She can be reached at hannahr@princeton.edu.

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