2020 began with the death of my beloved father, former federal judge and civil rights champion Nathaniel R. Jones. And then the hits just kept coming, clouded in a never-ending deadly pandemic. It seems that almost every other Friday evening, we’re rocked with the news of loss of another of our great ones: John Lewis, Chadwick Boseman, CT Vivien, Joseph Lowery. And now, on the third Friday of September, we learned that our beloved champion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took flight.
In the hours after her death, those of us who have depended on her and love liberty and democracy have been distraught, feeling like we have lost our last hope. “This can’t be happening!” “We’re screwed!” were common refrains among my friends.
But just as my father would have encouraged me not to despair in this moment but to find a way through the darkness, I believe that Justice Ginsburg, too, would urge us not to give up but to keep moving forward. In fact, she already told us how to do it: step by step.
And as I’ve pondered on their lives and legacies and lessons, I’m beginning to see a glimmer that can help us find our way, one step at a time.
Justice Ginsburg’s death has pulled full focus onto the courts, which have been little spoken of in this campaign. It’s almost as if she took flight when she did in order to disrupt us at the most critical time.
And coming when it did – just weeks before the most pivotal election in our lifetimes – Justice Ginsburg’s death has slapped us in the face and reminded us of the stakes in this contest. RBG may no longer be on the Court, but she has put the courts on the ballot.
And that, no doubt, will energize and mobilize voters even more than before, which could spell trouble for Donald Trump. In 2016, too many Democrats voted (or didn’t vote at all) as if the courts didn’t matter while Republicans voted as if the courts were the ONLY thing that mattered. And, unfortunately, in this election cycle, the courts have gotten short shrift once again with little attention and even less discussion about the Trump-McConnell takeover of the courts and what it means. Now, suddenly, the courts are front and center and likely will be a major issue for the rest of the campaign.
And voters paying attention to the courts will be even more energized and determined to vote, which could spell trouble for Trump.
Trump has been running on the POSSIBILITY he’d get another Supreme Court nomination, not the reality, dangling promises that allowed his voters to project their own vision of an ideal justice onto the fuzzy screen he held up for them. Just last week, Trump released a list of potential nominees last week, a wishlist of mostly unsuitable conservative lawyers and judges with something for everyone in his base. But if he actually PICKS someone, one real person, that’s a whole different ballgame. That nominee will surely not please everyone in his base and they will be a clear and tangible target for the opposition.
Surely Trump can try to pump up his base with a red meat nominee, but in so doing, he’ll also pump up the Democrats who will have a clear and distinct in-the-flesh nominee to rally against. If the nominee isn’t confirmed before the election, Trump will look weak. And if he and McConnell somehow manage to push through a confirmation in record time, they may win the battle but lose the war. A rushed confirmation process would further remind voters of the heavy-handed, unprincipled way this administration and its congressional lackeys have abused their power and provide even more incentive for voters to turn them out of office.
But it’s not certain that Trump would even get much help from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prior to the election. Although he couldn’t even wait a day after Justice Ginsburg’s passing to callously promise a vote on her replacement before the election, McConnell may not be too keen on trying to move a nomination so quickly. He’s in the middle of a campaign himself and several of his caucus members are in very tight races. He surely does NOT want to have to make them walk the plank.
If McConnell forces a vote before the election, he will virtually guarantee that Republicans lose the Senate and he loses his position as Majority Leader. And it’s not a certainty that he would even have the votes for confirmation (notice his statement said he would hold a vote, but didn’t promise to secure a confirmation) since several vulnerable senators in close races may not be willing to further risk their seats by voting for confirmation.
And that leaves Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary who is locked in a tight race in South Carolina, in an even worse position than either Trump or McConnell. The last thing Graham should want or need is to have leave the campaign trail where he needs to spend every waking moment fighting off Jaime Harrison to oversee a slapped together hearing featuring Kamala Harris who, unlike Graham, would probably relish the chance to strut her stuff at a confirmation hearing just before the election.
I doubt that Graham is eager for South Carolinians to witness him playing ringleader at a circus where Kamala “I made the last Supreme Court nominee cry” Harris dazzles the crowd with flips on the high wire while he slips and slides around in elephant dung trying to avoid getting run over by the clown car.
In considering all of this, it’s clear to me that we have a path forward, but only if we remain calm, thoughtful and strategic. And we must be guided by Justice Ginsburg’s words and take this one step at a time. One. Step. At. A. Time …
First, pressure must be put on individual senators and on McConnell not to hold a confirmation vote until after the election. This is doable, especially considering the number of Republican Senators who have in the past promised not to vote on a nominee until after the Inauguration exceeds the number of Senators needed to block confirmation. That’s leverage. Use it.
Second, but just as important, if not more so, we must continue – and, in fact, ramp up – our voter protection and empowerment efforts across the county. Turnout will not only affect what happens on November 3 – it will also affect everything that happens afterward.
But we can’t worry about what happens after November 3. All of our attention and energy needs to be laser-beam focused on the work we must do NOW. What we do in the next six weeks will determine everything that happens afterward.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave us her all but finally had to lay down her burden. It is now on us to pick it up and continue fighting for her, for all of us.
Thank you, Justice Ginsburg for all you did for us, for all you taught us, and for inspiring us to never ever give up. Go to your well-deserved rest. We’ll take it from here.