Most of my family and friends are into Making America Great Again… again. They are not racists. They are good people, religious people, Catholics and Evangelicals who believe that abortion is the most important item on the docket when electing a president. So four years ago, many of them held their noses and voted for a philanderer and a bully and a race baiter because there was a Supreme Court seat open and the big prize of Roe v. Wade was dangling over the plate like a 35 mph fastball.
By the looks of it, they hit a towering home run. In fact the ball is still blasting through the stratosphere.
When Justice Scalia died in early 2016 and the Senate refused to even have a hearing on Obama’s nominee to replace him until after the election, they effectively put a Supreme Court seat on the ballot. A stroke of brilliance, really. But never in conservatives’ wettest dreams did they imagine that two more seats would come open in the ensuing 48 months. A 6-3 conservative majority on the highest court in the land would almost certainly be enough to overturn the landmark abortion case. At least that’s the hope. Or the fear, depending which side you’re on.
I’m not sure where I stand on abortion. Is that all right? To be undecided? To be conflicted about such a polarizing issue? If we’re committed to putting science first on the crucial issues of Covid and the environment, why not listen to what scientists have to say about abortion? Especially late-term abortions. I’m guessing we know a lot more about the human embryo in 2020 than we did 50 years ago, just as we know a lot more about melting ice caps, carbon emissions, and the ozone layer. But I have the luxury of being an armchair quarterback on this issue since I am a man and will never have to make that difficult choice.
Abortion is not my main focus during election season anyway. Neither is the environment nor the Second Amendment nor the economy nor health care. When I’m gauging a candidate, it’s all about prisoners and the families of prisoners. And since presidents appoint not only Supreme Court Justices but lower appeals court judges, these elections have a direct impact and far reaching consequences for my little demographic. (And by little I mean the 25% of the world’s incarcerated who reside right here in the U.S.)
Contrary to popular belief, and despite what they may say in confirmation hearings, these judges are not fair and impartial callers of balls and strikes. That era is long gone. In the 70s, under liberal justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan, the Court declared capital punishment unconstitutional, supported Roe v. Wade, and upheld affirmative action. But under Nixon appointee William Rehnquist, whom Reagan made Chief Justice in the 80s, the death penalty was brought back, prisoners’ rights were reduced, and the court ruled that education was not a fundamental right in America. Occasionally some Justice will drift to the center in his or her old age but that’s happening less and less these days. Most judges are now groomed from high school for these lifetime positions and thoroughly vetted before they make the short list. Too much is at stake.
That’s why the idea of a devout conservative like Amy Coney Barrett supplanting a liberal paragon like Justice Ginsburg is so painful. She will be on the court for possibly the next 40 years. This feels like Clarence Thomas being tapped to replace Thurgood Marshall all over again. That was 30 years ago and he’s still the most conservative Justice on the bench.
But the irony in all of this isn’t that Republicans are rushing to ram through Justice Ginsburg’s replacement 30 days before the election, even though they refused to hold a hearing on Obama’s appointee with eight months left. Or that all this is going on despite RBG’s dying wish that they wait until America goes to the polls. Or that the court is moving back into the 1950s while the rest of the nation is moving in an entirely different direction… The irony is that the least intelligent and most polarizing president in the history of the Oval Office, number 45 out of 45, will have replaced a third of the Supreme Court during his rocky four-year tenure. And if he declares this election rigged, refuses to accept the results, and there turns out to be a court battle, guess who will be casting the deciding vote.