The unfortunate death of the liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, reminded me of scenes I witnessed as Washington, DC correspondent for the daily paper La Opinión, on December 11, 2000, when the high court heard arguments in the Bush v. Gore case in that year’s presidential election. In the evening of December 12, the Court issued its decision to stop the recount of votes in Florida, and awarded the presidency to Republican George W. Bush against Democrat Al Gore.
The divide between groups and the things that they shouted at the time, compared to what has happened during the Trump presidency, seems like child’s play. But it stayed in my mind firstly because of the historic value of the situation, and secondly because it showed me the enormous power that Supreme Court decisions have on our lives; even, as in this case, deciding a presidential election by just one vote, in a 5-4 ruling.
Bader Ginsburg was one of the four justices who dissented in that historic ruling. Another of those four justices, John Paul Stevens, wrote “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is pellucidly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”
Twenty years later, we are on the brink of an election that promises to drag on, since President Donald Trump goes around declaring to the four winds that the Democrats want to “steal” the election from him using “voter fraud,” although he is the one who is asking people to violate the law by voting twice, once by mail and once in person. The most ironic part is that it should be Trump himself who nominates a successor to a liberal justice who has left her mark on so many cases that ended up at the Supreme Court, and in so many others that she argued before the same tribunal, as a lawyer whose north star was equality for women and other minorities in a world dominated by White men. And that this could incline, to his favor, the ideological balance of the high court that could potentially hear a case contesting the electoral results, if it reaches that point.
As if there was not already sufficient division in this country, division instigated by Trump for electoral reasons, now we enter into the battle over the Supreme Court nomination in the midst of the pandemic that the president mismanaged, but which has now taken a back seat to the drama over this nomination, unfolding with little more than forty days to the actual general election, because early voting, absentee ballots, and vote by mail is already taking place.
It turns out that elections have consequences. This is something that the people who stayed home in 2016, because they did not like Hillary Clinton as a candidate and thought that she would beat Trump regardless of their support, should have understood by now. Many of them have spent almost four years lamenting Trump’s abuses, but now they say that Joe Biden doesn’t excite them. Apparently, they prefer another four years of abuse because the Democratic candidate does not meet all of their expectations.
Now Trump is preparing to nominate a third justice, or in this case a Supreme Court justice with conservative tendences who would shift the ideological balance of the high court, with the potential to reverse laws that impact us at all levels.
If you have medical coverage thanks to Obamacare, including many Republicans who have benefitted from this law, that will be in danger because the Trump administration is hell-bent on breaking the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare. Also, laws that have to do with immigration, refugees, the right to abortion, labor protections, civil rights protections for minorities, women, and the LGBTQ community, equal rights for women, discrimination bsaed on gender or its many other manifestations, same-sex marriage, climate change, election laws. The list of the topics that could be considered and changed by a majority-conservative Supreme Court is long and should matter.
The next time you say you don’t care who is nominated to the Supreme Court, remember that the decisions of this tribunal impact many aspects of our lives.
And the next time that you think your vote doesn’t matter and is of no consequence, look at who is president now and remember that he could stay another four years, if people who can vote do not.
Because not exercising your right to vote has serious consequences.