The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is a terrible loss for her family, her friends, and her country. Her likely replacement threatens to compound the loss by reversing her judicial legacy, especially her ardent defense of sexual and reproductive rights.
On Saturday, Trump is expected to announce his choice for the bench, stipulating that it will be a woman. Amy Coney Barrett, criticized for her dangerously antiquated views on reproductive issues, is widely believed to be the frontrunner. With ghoulish irony, Trump reportedly told his inner circle, “I’m saving her for Ginsburg.”
It’s a particular insult to women, as well as to Justice Ginsberg’s memory, for Trump to propose such a candidate to replace her and claim he’s doing it to advance women’s equality. If he succeeds in appointing such a staunch opponent of reproductive rights to the Court, he’ll advance his own agenda of turning women’s rights back 50 years. Appointing Barrett could well result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the assault on sexual and reproductive rights will not stop there.
When Trump released a list of 20 new additions to his original list of candidates for the Supreme Court, the litmus test was once again opposition to abortion and hostility towards women’s reproductive health and rights. That’s why Senators Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz found their names on it. Cotton stated he was “honored” by the announcement and Cruz said he was “grateful for the president’s confidence in [him] and for [Trump’s] leadership in nominating principled constitutionalists to the federal bench.”
But it is Barrett who appears to have the inside track. After she paid the White House a couple of visits this week, Trump reportedly said that she “will be well received by his people, ” by which he means his anti-choice base.
Barrett is one of the few women President Trump has appointed to a federal judgeship, and she is dedicated to advancing the anti-choice agenda. There is virtually no doubt, legal experts say, that she will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, which she has condemned as an “erroneous decision.” She also signed a statement claiming the ACA’s birth control benefit was “an assault on religious liberty.” Several women’s rights groups vehemently opposed her nomination to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. And LGTBQ+ rights advocates warned that Barrett’s religious views on marriage could come into conflict with the constitutional right to marriage equality.
Justice Ginsburg knew better than anyone what was at stake. Days before her death, she told her granddaughter, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” But Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also have a fervent wish: to repeal and replace Justice Ginsburg’s judicial legacy.
In what will go down as one of the most breathtakingly hypocritical moves in modern political history, without even pausing to pay respect to the late Justice, McConnell declared that Trump’s nominee to fill Justice Ginsberg’s seat will receive a full Senate vote this year. In 2016 when President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court bench nine months before the election, McConnell refused to even hold a hearing. What McConnell really cares about is not fulfilling the Senate’s duty to advise and consent on judicial nominees; it’s stacking the federal courts with conservative jurists however he can, especially when it comes to filling vacancies on the Supreme Court.
Trump’s attacks on reproductive rights and health have been many and varied, but packing the Supreme Court with anti-choice Justices will be his most far-reaching tactic by far. His first two appointments to the Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, are already rolling back the clock on reproductive health and rights. This summer, they voted with the minority to let stand a state abortion restriction that would likely have forced the closure of the last abortion clinic in Louisiana. They also voted with the majority to allow employers to opt out of providing birth control coverage for their employees by claiming a moral or a religious objection. But if putting Gorsuch and Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court has been detrimental to sexual and reproductive health and rights, adding a third Trump appointee to the Court such as Amy Coney Barrett could be catastrophic.
Our hearts are breaking. Even as we mourn the loss of a champion who fought tirelessly for equality, social justice, and sexual and reproductive rights, we’ll have to face the affront to her life’s work that appointing a woman like Barrett as her replacement represents. Now she’s gone, we must carry on Justice Ginsberg’s fight ourselves. May her memory be a blessing, and may we not rest until we have secured her legacy.
This op-ed by Bridget Kelly, who is the Director of Research with the Population Institute, originally ran on September 24, 2020 in Newsweek