The court is now split between five conservative jurists and three liberal justices. Whoever fills Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s vacancy will affect the makeup of the Supreme Court.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at 87 marks the passing of a fierce trailblazer in the fight for women’s rights, as well as a pioneer for gender equality and a lifelong defender of the legal, civil, and constitutional rights of Latinos and immigrants in the US.
In 2019, for example, Ginsburg was a key vote in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to block the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the Census. And she did it again in 2020, when the US Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could not shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program, which protects nearly 800,000 young immigrants from facing immediate deportation.
Now, as President Donald Trump and his allies push to confirm a replacement for Justice Ginsburg before the Nov. 3 election, the role the Supreme Court plays in the issues that affect many aspects of Americans’ lives takes on even greater importance.
A Lasting Impact
The reason is that Americans can elect a new president every four years, but Supreme Court justices hold their position for life or until retirement. In effect, when a president appoints a justice to the Supreme Court, he or she will likely have an impact on the country’s laws and legal decisions for decades to come, as issues such as public school desegregation, gay marriage and basic Miranda rights have all been decided in Supreme Court cases. In fact, the highest court in the nation is often the deciding factor on highly contentious laws, disputes between states and the federal government, and final appeals to stay executions.
Why It Matters Now
The court is made up of nine justices, which ensures that every case will always have a deciding vote. It is not uncommon for contentious cases to be split 5-4, with one justice deciding the case. But the president generally nominates justices that have leanings—whether conservative or liberal—similar to his own. For this reason, the Supreme Court pick is a crucial election topic, because the president can have a large impact on the makeup of the court.
This, in turn, can have an impact not only on how the new cases that come before the court are decided, but sometimes it can also impact those that came before. That is because in the past, the court has revisited an issue in a new case and changed its own precedent. This means that gay marriage, or even the DACA program, for example, could be reversed if enough justices decide it. In fact, since its creation by the Judiciary Act of 1789, the US Supreme Court has overruled more than 300 of its own rulings.
A Rush to Appoint
After Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, the court was split between five conservative jurists and three liberal justices.
President Trump and Senate Republican leaders want to fill the vacancy before the election, even though in 2016 Republicans blocked an election-year appointment because they said voters should have a say. The difference this time, they claim, is that the voters already had their say by choosing Trump in 2016.
At this time, President Trump is considering two possible candidates, both of who align with the Republican’s conservative views.
One is Amy Coney Barrett, a federal judge and devout Catholic, she famously said that a “legal career is but a means to an end . . . and that end is building the Kingdom of God.”
The other is Barbara Lagoa, a Cuban American federal judge who lives in Florida, who is also a Catholic with strong ties to the conservative law movement.
The number of Senate votes needed to approve Trump’s Supreme Court pick is 51. There are currently 53 Republicans in the Senate, and at this time, moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), oppose voting on a nomination before the election.