On the evening of Monday, September 28th, the Fisher community gathered for a candlelight vigil to honor the life and career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The vigil was co-sponsored by the Student Government Association and Campus Ministry, with speeches given by SGA President Michael Lilholt and Fisher Feminist Alliance President Anna Hand. Attendees were also led in prayer by Father Kevin Mannara. Members of the campus community were provided chalk to write supportive messages on the sidewalk of the Keough Quad.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, often referred to as “RBG”, passed away peacefully in her Washington, DC home on Friday, September 18th, due to complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer. She lived 87 years, 27 of which were spent serving on the United States Supreme Court.
Ginsburg’s prolific law career began in 1956, when she was one of just eight women in a male-dominated class at Harvard Law School. Transferring to Columbia Law School after two years, Ginsburg received her law degree and began to advocate for gender equality. She wrote her first Supreme Court brief in 1971, the first of six gender equality laws Ginsburg would argue before the highest court in the nation.
Ginsburg possessed the tenacity and doggedness to work through five bouts of cancer, beginning with her 1999 battle with colon cancer. Through these serious health issues, Ginsburg was determined to serve on the Supreme Court until the end of President Donald Trump’s reign. An NPR article quotes a statement dictated by Ginsburg to her daughter in her final days of life: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” In pursuit of this goal, Ginsburg continued to work until the day she died.
Ginsburg’s death set into motion an additional layer of political upheaval in an already-monumental 2020 presidential election. In the coming weeks leading up to the November 3rd election, Donald Trump and Congress Republicans will attempt to expedite the process of nominating and appointing a justice to fill Ginsburg’s position. Republican Mitch McConnell will play a large role in this process; as the Senate majority leader, it is McConnell’s responsibility to lead the Senate in a timely vote to confirm Trump’s nominee.
Trump has announced his plans to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Coney Barrett, a Notre Dame graduate, currently serves on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. A Roman Catholic, Coney Barrett has been known to speak out against abortion rights, and would be in favor of reversing the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. If this were to happen, American women would lose their constitutional right to terminate pregnancy.
In the days following Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, Mitch McConnell has confirmed that he will put Trump’s nominee up to a vote in the Senate. This has sparked controversy across party lines, with scores of Americans accusing McConnell of hypocrisy. In 2016, when conservative Justice Antoin Scalia passed away seven months before the presidential election, President Barack Obama nominated Democrat Merrick Garland to fill the vacant seat. Arguing that a Supreme Court appointment should not be made in an election year, Mitch McConnell proceeded to block the appointment of Garland. Now, with just over a month before the presidential election, McConnell is prepared to rush through the political rigamarole and push a vote on Trump’s nominee.
McConnell and Trump have been criticized for their plans to nominate Coney Barrett so quickly, especially by Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Biden, Obama’s vice-president at the time of Scalia’s death, has called Trump’s plan “an abuse of power”, and is strongly in favor of following the precedent set in 2016 of holding off on a nomination.
If Trump and McConnell can complete the necessary steps to quickly appoint Amy Coney Barrett as a replacement, the result would be a 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court. With Supreme Court justices able to serve for life, the decisions made in the coming weeks have the potential to impact Supreme Court decisions for years to come.
In his speech at Monday night’s vigil, Fisher SGA President Michael Lilholt encouraged students to honor the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in one way: by voting. “We all must learn one valuable lesson from [Ginsburg]”, said Lilholt. “Take a stance for what you believe in, and vote.”
Lilholt’s words reflect a campus-wide effort to increase voter turnout among Fisher students. The campus has partnered with Turbovote to launch Fisher Votes, a website designed to simplify voter registration for Fisher students. In an election year where issues span from a global pandemic to the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice, Fisher’s increased voter turnout efforts reflect one sentiment: now, more than ever, it is crucial for students to participate in the democratic process.