The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not unexpected. What surpassed expectations was the strength of character she exhibited during her life. Top of her law class at Columbia University in 1959, then passed over for a Supreme Court clerkship, then unable to procure a position at any prestigious law firm; she fought her way back the old-fashioned way: She earned it by working harder and longer than her peers. When President Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court, she was confirmed in just 42 days by a vote of 96 to 3. Though her liberal rulings and interpretation of law were well-known and thoroughly examined during her nomination process, only three Republicans voted against her appointment. Her intelligence and reasoned demeanor were so visible few could find any legitimate reason to oppose her.
She was a champion of the 14th Amendment. Just three years after her appointment, she wrote the majority ruling allowing women to attend Virginia Military Institute. Her dissenting opinion in the Lilly Ledbetter discrimination suit was the triggering event in Congress passing a law overturning the ruling.
The Republican-led Senate vows to bring Trump's nominee to replace Ginsburg to a floor vote as soon as possible. Legally, they have every right to do so. But precedence plays a large part when right and wrong are defined. The hypocrisy of Senate leaders, who ignored Obama's nominee for 10 months because 2016 was an election year, but feel justified in bringing a vote this year, is not surprising. The American public is immune to the proclamations of politicians. What was said four years ago means nothing now and can be dismissed due to expediency and circumstance, especially if it secures a legacy or long-held ideological dream. The chance to secure a large majority of right-ward leaning jurists to the highest court in the land is just too tempting. A 6-3 majority would enable the destruction of Obamacare, repeal of environmental regulations, and weaken laws protecting employees from discriminatory actions. I'm not sure the Democrats would act any better, if roles were reversed.
But payback can be painful. If the Democrats gain control of the Senate and Biden is elected President, as many predict is likely, and the lame-duck Senate approves the Trump nominee prior to inauguration of the new Congress, all kinds of chaos may ensue. A Democratic-led Senate may expand the Supreme Court to 11 or even 13 members in an attempt to balance or tip the court back to the Left. The filibuster could be removed, which weakens the power of the minority party in the Senate. Who knows what else may happen?
It is sad indeed that civility is dead and buried in Washington, DC. It is sad that well-reasoned and thoughtful candidates for the Supreme Court are selected more on the basis of ideology than their knowledge of constitutional law. Sadder still, I fear partisanship and tribal identity are more important to politicians and voters alike. Winning at all costs is more important than unifying to solve problems. Compromise is for losers and suckers. Scorch the earth and who cares who gets hurt in the crossfire?
RBG secured her legacy as a tireless jurist for human rights. She overcame discrimination, disease, and tragedy to make this country an honorable and decent place. I doubt any current or future member of the Supreme Court is ever held to such great esteem from hereon.
-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.