A Supreme September Surprise

This election’s October surprise came in September, just as early voting began in the first few states. The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg not only upends the next six weeks before Election Day, but also could turn the 11 weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day into a time of deep peril for the nation.

We now will have a bitter battle in the Senate – and across the country – over whether to confirm President Trump’s nominee or wait to see if Joe Biden will be the next President.

Even if Biden wins and Democrats win a Senate majority, the lame-duck Republican Senate could press ahead and put Trump’s pick on the Court, for his or her lifetime.

That would mean weeks more of bitter battles after the election. But that’s not all.

If the Presidential election ends up being disputed, the final decision on who gets sworn in January 20 could be up to the Supreme Court. The decisive vote could be cast by Trump’s newly confirmed Justice.

More battles. More bitterness. How much can America take?

Mitch McConnell and most Senate Republicans will push to confirm Trump’s pick. They know they’ll be accused of rank hypocrisy because they refused to vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in 2016. But they will not be deterred.

Because this is about raw political power. It’s about controlling the Supreme Court for decades to come. For Republicans, it’s about keeping a pledge to conservatives.

Forging ahead could cost them the Presidency and the Senate. Case in point: North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis has spent months walking a delicate line between Trump voters and swing voters. There will be no middle ground here.

Justice Ginsburg made clear where she stands:

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new President is installed’

Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, tweeted that the court vacancy “will rev up the Democratic base like nothing else could (and Trump already has revved up his much smaller base).” He added:

“The nomination of an anti-choice justice who will overturn Roe makes Trump’s problem with women much worse.”

But the Senate battle over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination energized Republicans in October 2018. That may have held down Republican losses.

Swing voters are whipsawed over abortion and other social and economic issues. Former California Governor Jerry Brown put it this way:

“The world is changing, our customs are changing, it’s not a world that more conservative, more traditional people recognize. People are reacting and Trump has been able… to tap in to real fears, real concerns that so many Americans are feeling. It’s a very dynamic world with lots of anxiety and fear.”

Justice Ginsburg’s death will be a flash point for the anxiety and fear that Americans all across the political spectrum feel this year.

Already, our nerves are rubbed raw. First there was Trump’s impeachment. Then the Covid-19 pandemic. Then quarantines and quarrels over masks and business closings and school closings and openings. Then the Black Lives Matter protests. Now this.

From her first year at Harvard Law School in 1956 through 27 years on the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg’s life was about confronting gender discrimination. Now, her death puts the struggle for women’s rights atop the agenda of a crucial election.

She believed passionately in the rule of law, justice and fairness. Now, those basic American principles will be tested in bitter political combat.

All Americans should work hard for their beliefs in the weeks and months to come. We should also pray for our country.

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