By Barrington M. Salmon and Hazel Trice Edney
Civil rights leaders are alternating between sadness over the death of Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and deep concern about what her death could mean to the composition of the US Supreme Court – and ultimately what it could mean for freedom, justice and equality for Blacks, women and other historically oppressed people.
Ginsburg reportedly told her granddaughter on her deathbed, Sept. 18, that “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” But shortly after news of Ginsburg’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his intention to try to confirm Ginsburg’s replacement before the presidential election in 44 days. And Within minutes of learning of the open seat Arizona Sen. Martha McSally jumped out as the first senator to declare that she will vote for whoever McConnell and Trump instruct her to as soon as possible.
“Justice Ginsburg performed a great sacrifice by not allowing herself to rest and selflessly stay and fighting to the very end,” said Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, a political commentator, public speaker and author. “Her dying wish was for her seat to not be filled. It was on her mind. What this means largely, is that we’re up the creek without a paddle. We know this because Trump is unscrupulous, has no principle, no integrity.”
She added, “We’re in perfect storm. We have the most unscrupulous president that we’ve known in recent history. The very same things can be said about McConnell who is even more dangerous. These two individuals are in power and have the power to shape the court. I would expect them to go ahead and try to put another Republican on the court.”
As legal minds expressed some of their worst fears, national civil rights representatives recalled the contributions of Ginsburg and what might now be lost.
“Justice Ginsburg’s 27-year tenure on the Supreme Court was marked by a passion for justice and the rule of the law,” said Derrick Johnson, president/CEO of the NAACP in a statement. “Her long, remarkable record includes her legendary opinions involving disability rights in Olmstead v. LC, and gender equality in the military, the United States v. Virginia. She was also known for her powerful dissents, many of which she delivered from the bench. These include dissents in the voting rights decision of Shelby County v. Holder, the gender equity case of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire Company Co., and the affirmative action case of Ricci v. Stefano…Our nation has lost its north star for justice tonight. As we move forward in the weeks and months ahead, we must honor Justice Ginsburg’s memory and extraordinary contributions and remember that the Supreme Court is the ultimate guardian of all of our civil rights and liberties.”
Melanie Campbell, president/CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convenor of the Black Women’s Roundtable, pointed out how Ginsburg’s arguments will remain alive and provide groundwork for future civil rights battles.
“Justice Ginsburg’s powerful and foretelling dissent in Shelby County v. Holder laid bare the majority’s flaws in the decision that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was no longer needed as a deterrent to voter suppression,” Campbell wrote in a statement. “In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg warned that ‘Race-based voting discrimination still exists’ and cautioned that gutting the Act’s protections against voting discrimination was like ‘throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.’”
Campbell concludes, “As a result of the Court’s decision, voter suppression tactics have escalated in states across the country. The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation will honor the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by continuing the fight for civil rights, social justice and equity for all.”
The National Bar Association (NBA), with its membership of thousands of Black lawyers, called Ginsburg “A truly great American” and “one of the most outstanding, compassionate crusaders for justice to ever sit on the Supreme Court of The United States.”
NBA President C.K. Hoffler said, “She was a champion for justice for all people, unwavering in her quest to ensure the rights and dignity of all Americans…Justice Ginsburg was my shero. She committed her entire life to social justice and continued the fight until she passed.”
Florida-based Attorney Kelly Charles-Collins fears that a far-right court which would boast a 6-3 majority is going to tear down established law in the form of Brown v Board and the Voting Rights Act. Civil Rights and LGBTQ issues are not their favorites either, she said; also expressing concern for abortion rights.
“There’s a balancing, a cost-benefit analysis,” Charles-Collins said. “It’s power versus their word. Do you think McConnell cares? They play chess all day long every day. We have to respect them for that.”
The Rev. Graylan Hagler said he thinks it’s not a certainty that McConnell will have the room to execute his plan to get another Republican on the high court. But if McConnell is successful, Hagler theorizes, it will also be “bad news” for immigration and labor unions, which will suffer as will American workers who the Supreme Court already votes against routinely.
Critics say a 6-3 conservative court would further eviscerate voting rights by turning its back on extreme partisan gerrymandering, erasing corporate and environmental regulations and further bolstering the rape of the economy and American lives by plutocrats who are benefiting by the removal of limits to the role of dark money and the avalanche of cash that has overwhelmed campaigns and American politics.
McConnell has earned Democrats’ ire because of the stunt he pulled in March 2016 when he blocked Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia who had died one month earlier. McConnell’s argument then was that he would not allow any of consideration of Obama’s pick because Americans should be allowed to vote and the president choose. So he placed a blockade around the vote but now he’s rushing to push the vote through, a move them some view as the ultimate hypocrisy.
Attorney Elva Mason of Charlottesville said she’s been in a funk since hearing the sad news and called Ginsburg a stellar lawyer and judge who blazed the judicial trail for women. She said the nation will now realize the depth of Ginsburg’s loss.
“We have lost a warrior and I don’t think a lot of people realize it,” she said. “She had a very shy demeanor but was tough as nails.”
Mason reflected on an what she views as an important scenario outlined by political analyst and pollster Dr. Larry Sabato of UVA. He said if Republicans push this, the best scenario for those who oppose the move is a Biden win. And then Democrats could expand the court by two to offset the far-right members of the Court.
“There are just all kind of ideas. Minds are already running at 100 miles an hour,” Mason said. “The thing that always bothers me is Republicans have always been motivated in terms of elections and who’s on the Supreme Court. It’s always second for Democrats. Now we see consequences. These nine people can make decisions to affect our children and children’s children.”