This year will almost certainly be remembered as both an incredibly bizarre and pivotal moment in the history of our nation. With pertinent issues like the pandemic, the economy, and social justice on the minds of many Americans, the upcoming presidential election is being advertised as one of the most significant moments in modern U.S. history. Democrats are eager to remove President Trump from office while Republicans are equally desperate and fearful of what a Biden presidency would mean for the future of the country. But while much of America will be fixated on the presidential and senatorial elections for the next month, my attention will be heavily focused on the Supreme Court. In this article, I will explain why I believe Trump’s replacement of Justice Ginsburg could become a historical moment of equal—if not greater—importance than the upcoming elections and why it is a reminder of the lingering consequences of such elections.
What’s at Stake?
Since 1969, the majority of Supreme Court appointees (15 of 19) have been nominated by Republican presidents. Yet, despite this statistic, Democrats have maintained a durable minority of four votes for most of this time and have often been able to achieve 5-4 victories with the help of moderate conservatives. Today, not only is there a lack of moderate conservatives on the court due to Justice Kennedy’s recent resignation, but Justice Ginsburg’s death provides Trump with an opportunity to place another staunch conservative on the bench. Whereas Democrats were once capable of achieving victories, a 6-3 divide of the bench in favor of conservatives will essentially exclude Democrats from impacting the court’s decisions for years to come.
This is why I view the appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court as a monumental historical event. Even if Trump were to lose every state in this year’s election and if the Senate were to flip, conservative justices will still have the opportunity reverse crucial liberal rulings and forever change the nature of the highest court of law. It seems appropriate at this moment to mention the fundamental constitutional issue at stake with Judge Barrett’s appointment: stare decisis. Stare decisis is an unwritten legal doctrine which the Supreme Court and other courts use to make rulings based on precedent. While it may appear obvious to some people that courts should rule on precedent for the sake on fairness and convenience, stare decisis is actually controversial. Particularly, manyoriginalists (those who adhere to a strict interpretation of the Constitution as its framers intended) accuse stare decisis of allowing laws that directly contradict the constitution to be upheld. Judge Barrett and the conservative justices on the Supreme Court are among this group and, pending Barrett’s formal appointment, they will have their greatest majority on the bench in many years.
Now, as I believe it is important for citizens of any nation to question and evaluate their system of governance, I would challenge all Americans to fairly consider whether our process of selecting Supreme Court justices is as successful in the current, polarized political climate as it has been in the past. That the nomination of a single justice—by a president who has struggled to achieve a 50% approval rating throughout his term—can alter the composition and procedure of the highest court of law ought to concern any American. This is not to suggest that our system of judicial selection is necessarily flawed, and we should always be hesitant to discard political procedures simply because we are unsatisfied with their results in particular cases. Rather, by gaining awareness of the significance of judicial appointments, Americans could generally be provided with a more valuable perspective when voting.
Often, people fail to vote in presidential elections, many claiming that neither candidate is worth voting for. Others vote strictly based on short-term issues and the promises made by candidates during their campaigns. However, as the appointment of Judge Barrett will likely demonstrate, judicial appointments can have major consequences for many years following an election and should be carefully considered by all Americans prior to voting or deciding whether to vote. As we enter a new presidential election in November, it is therefore crucial that voters consider how each candidate’s presidency would impact the country in the years following their term in ways such as the composition of the Supreme Court.