Honoring Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)

Last week saw the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. As the second woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg helped rule on several landmark cases during a tenure that spanned 27 years and four presidential administrations. Prior to serving on the Court, Ginsburg was well-known for her work with the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Her assortment of judicial opinions, including her dissent in Gonzales v. Carhart, aligned her with the Court’s liberal wing. Yet, regardless of political stance, Ginsburg was one of the most influential civic figures in contemporary American history. To respect her legacy is to respect the important role of the Court in our nation, a role that has tragically fallen victim to the forces of partisanship above which the court is intended to function.

Within just hours of Ginsburg’s passing, political discourse in the media shifted from honoring her memory to discussing the struggle over the now-vacant Supreme Court seat. Partisanship continued to extend into the Senate’s resolution to honor Ginsburg, which was blocked due to “partisan language” stating that “Ginsburg’s position should not be filled until a new president was installed.” According to a report by NPR, Ginsburg told her granddaughter days before her passing that, My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Leaders from both parties quibbled over the statement’s implications, and the resolution failed. 

The fight over the Supreme Court nomination serves as a reminder of the stark partisanship dominating American politics. The Supreme Court is now yet another fiery battleground between Republicans and Democrats, where the previously bipartisan process of judicial confirmations has become rife with party-line voting. The proximity of this vacancy to the election has increased the stakes for both parties. In such a bitter political climate, accusations and argumentation have once again replaced constructive political discourse, with both parties accusing the other of undermining American democracy. 

The politicization of the Supreme Court has torn away its nonpartisan intentions, driving ugly divisions that have overtaken the mourning of Ginsburg’s legacy. Ginsburg’s passing bears high stakes for the nation, especially amidst the current political and social crises. Even then, our bitter divisions distract from the central mission of the Supreme Court: to interpret the Constitution. If we want to proceed constructively amid national turmoil, we must continue to honor Ginsburg for who she was: a dedicated public servant committed to the national interest and to the American people.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, vol. CXLIII