Olivia Allery, Contributor
With the recent and tragic loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a vacancy in the Supreme Court opened up only 46 days before the presidential election. On Sept. 26, 2020, President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett as the newest and youngest member of the US Supreme Court. Coney Barrett is a member of the Federal Court of Appeals in the Seventh Circuit, a position appointed by Trump as well, and was considered a frontrunner in the replacement of Ginsburg. Her nomination has gained her almost immediate popularity within conservative circles. To them, Coney Barrett is the perfect representation of their identities and values. However, even before her nomination, there was much controversy surrounding the replacement of a Supreme Court justice so close to the election.
Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced only two hours after Justice Ginsburg’s death that Trump’s Supreme Court nominee would have a vote in the Senate, and the vote will take place “in the weeks ahead.” This would leave no action given to the American people on the decision of who would fill the vacancy, a precedent that McConnell seemed to be very passionate about during the 2016 election following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in Feb, 2016. As Scalia died nine months before the 2016 presidential election, McConnell made it clear that he believed that his replacement should not be chosen until after the presidential election was over.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
Now, in 2020, it is Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer uttering the same words as McConnell did in 2016 on the replacement of Ginsburg. Schumer says that “Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish was that she not be replaced until a new president is installed,” and Coney Barrett’s nomination would be a move “to replace her with someone who could tear down everything she has built.”
Schumer argued that the quickness of the Senate confirming Coney Barrett’s nomination is a power grab to make a Republican supermajority within the courts. Additionally, because rushing to confirm a Supreme Court nomination has never been done so close to a presidential election before, it could throw the already divided country deeper into division.
Schumer has already spoken in outright opposition to the nomination, but there are few options to slow down the appointment. If Coney Barrett is appointed, this would make the ratio of Republicans to Democrats in the Supreme Court 6:3.
The ramifications of this skewed ratio are clear to Andrew Aoki, Professor of Political Science at Augsburg. “Amy Coney Barrett will likely make the Court much more conservative,” he says. “Chief Justice Roberts will find it much harder to restrain the more extreme impulses now that he will no longer be the swing vote, and he has highly conservative views anyway.” A major concern among critics of Coney Barrett’s nomination is her stance on the Affordable Care Act, colloquially referred to as Obamacare. Republicans have been trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act for almost ten years and Coney Barrett could be the potential deciding vote to invalidate the law. This would eliminate protections and health insurance for millions of Americans during a global pandemic.
In light of such sweeping potential changes, some are fearful that there is little they can do to sway political change, as Supreme Court Justices are appointed until death or resignation. However, Aoki encourages all concerned voters to not succumb to apathy. “For those who are dismayed by this, the most effective thing they can do is to support candidates who can win elections, because the elected branches still wield great power.”