Playing Politics with the Supreme Court

Photo from Nairobi Center for International Arbitration

With the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18, 2020, our country was at a loss. Justice Ginsburg paved the way for many women. She fought for abortion rights, womens’ access to education, gender equality in the workplace and much more. She will always be an important figure in our country. However, once a Supreme Court justice passes away or retires, it is the job of the president to nominate a new justice. So in September, after her death, Americans were left arguing about who should pick the next Supreme Court justice. Donald Trump or the winner of the 2020 presidential election. But in the end, Donald Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, was confirmed to the Supreme Court. The confirmation should not have been nearly as politicized as it had become.

Supreme Court justice nominations weren’t always so political in the past. However, in the last few years, Supreme Court nomination fights on ideological grounds have drastically polarized the country. In 2016, eight months before the 2016 presidential election, Justice Scalia, a conservative Supreme Court judge, died unexpectedly. At the time, Barack Obama held office, and so after his death, President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland as the new Supreme Court Justice. But in 2016 Republicans held the Senate majority and so they refused to hold confirmation hearings on the nominee and prevented the full senate from taking a vote. This was an unprecedented abuse of power by Senate Republicans. There was no guarantee that Judge Garland was going to get Senate approval, but preventing a vote destroyed any comity in the Senate.

That same year, Obama and other Democrats demanded an up and down vote. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that, given that 2016 was an election year, the American voters would have to decide who the next president would be and the next President would proceed to nominating the new Supreme Court justice. It so happened that in 2016 Democrats lost the presidential election and because Trump won, he chose to nominate Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. With this maneuver, the Senate Republicans were able to avoid a Democratic pick and instead were able to install a conservative justice on the Supreme Court. Now, we all know what happened at the Kavanaugh hearings. When Christine Blasey Ford came out with sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, Democrats were already angered at losing their nominee. They supported Ford and tied her allegations to the #MeToo Movement. And so Kavanaugh’s hearings became centered around the allegations that were made against him. This caused an uproar among the Trump Administration, but ultimately, Judge Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court.

In September of 2020, when Justice Ginsburg passed away, about six weeks before the election, Donald Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Democrats and many Americans started calling foul because in 2016, President Obama was hampered from electing a new Justice eight months before the election. But weeks away from the 2020 presidential election, McConnell hurriedly set up hearings for Judge Barret’s confirmation, saying that when the President’s party controls the Senate, the Senate has authority to control the Supreme Court nominees. This was pure hypocrisy. According to a poll done by CNN this year, nearly six in ten Americans say that the winner of the 2020 election should pick the new Justice. The Senate’s actions showed the blatant disregard for the voice of the American people and their abuse of power reflects the current state of politics in our country. By overtly politicizing Supreme Court nominations, both parties are beginning to destroy the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, which is supposed to be an independent branch of the government. Those that are confirmed to the Supreme Court are supposed to maintain integrity based on the constitution, not based on their loyalties of the president who nominated them. 

In the last two decades, the U.S. has legalized gay marriage, has provided medical insurance to millions of Americans and has been working towards equal pay for women. The Supreme Court case, Roe V. Wade, that legalized abortion in the U.S and legalized women’s right to choose and Title IX won by RBG as an attorney have advanced women’s rights in the country.  However, Judge Amy Coney Barret’s confirmation to the Supreme Court threatens the progress of our country and the work of RBG to guarantee equal rights to all. 

 The state of our country is in turmoil. Our country’s political parties are dividing our country by abusing their power and suppressing the voice of the American people. Instead, our elected officials need to set aside their personal preferences and loyalties and use the morals and integrity that those in high power should possess, in order to make future decisions for our country.

Malvika Reddy ’23