Ruth Bader Ginsberg has died: 3 reasons Democrats shouldn’t panic … yet
OPINION: Dr. Jason Johnson breaks down the political implications of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg's death in the era of Trump, and how Democrats should rally voters to the polls.
Friday night, Supreme Court Justice, legal, feminist, and pop culture icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg went to join the ancestors at 87 years old after a decade long battle with cancer. Within minutes of the news, here’s a short summary of the text messages that I got.
“RBG died!!! F@@@@@@@ccckkkkk”
“I saw that. We’re f@cked.”
“F@ck RGB died. F@ck”
Now I don’t want this to be a poor reflection on my friends and colleagues, usually this much prolific use of the word “f@ck” is saved for special occasions. Occasions that seem to happen roughly every 23 minutes during the year of our lord 2020. But Bader Ginsburg’s death is a special case because it has long term consequences for just about every single person in the United States if not planet Earth. So maybe in this case, “F@CK” is appropriate.
This year, the passing of Congressman John Lewis, Civil Rights leader C.T. Vivian, as well as actor and activist Chadwick Boseman made us sad, but Bader Ginsburg’s death, so close to what we know will be a 2020 election fraught with court challenges and Trump’s cheating doesn’t just make people sad. It makes them terrified. Democrats, liberals, and people who care about Democracy are freaking out. About the courts, our rights, and most importantly the 2020 election. Well, I’m here to tell you: There’s no need to freak out, and here’s why.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing means that Trump potentially gets to pick another member of the Supreme Court. Given that he’s put almost 300 barely qualified judges on the bench, some of which graduated from law school online an hour before their confirmations and are just old enough to drink, most of his selections will be handing down rulings for a long time. All indications are that he will try to pick a hardcore right-wing, anti-abortion, anti-voting rights, anti-human rights woman like Amy Coney Barrett or Neomi Rao to replace Ginsburg as soon as he can. He might even try to slip in Kentucky Attorney General and Clarence Thomas Cosplay finalist Daniel Cameron assuming he’s not too busy burying evidence against the cops who killed Breonna Taylor under the courthouse.
However, before going full freak out, just remember, Trump and Mitch McConnell are unlikely to be able to replace Bader Ginsburg before the 2020 election, and may not even be able to afterward. There are currently four Republican Senators, Susan Collins (R-MA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Mitt Romney (R-UT) who have said they will not vote on a SCOTUS nominee until after the election.
Add to that list vulnerable Republicans like Tom Tillis (R-NC), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and Marth McSally (R-AZ) who may not want the smoke of Supreme Court pick tilting the balance of their likely losses to challenging Democrats, and you have a pretty hefty group of Republicans who may tell Mitch and the president no, at least for the time being. Now I’m sure you’re thinking “They’re Republicans they could all be lying!” this is true, and as a colleague of mine pointed out, McConnell doesn’t care about public perception or arguments, only consequences.
Maybe he figures Republicans are going to lose the Senate or close to it, so might as well rush through a pick in the lame-duck? Who knows, there is a lot that can happen between now and January, maybe Chuck Schumer will have some ingenious plan to stop the process (I know, highly unlikely) but regardless RBG’s seat is likely vacant and safe at least until November 3rd, which brings us to the second reason to not freak out.
First the cold truth. If the 2020 election comes down to the courts, Joe Biden is going to lose. Full stop. As I pointed out before, Trump has stuffed the courts with a bunch of Ayn Rand loving, William Barr wannabees who simply want to keep him in power. State Supreme courts have shown they will do whatever they can to suppress the vote and keep Trump in office so long as the race is close enough that some contrived interpretation of the Constitution gives them cover. As dire as that is to write, that was going to happen whether Ginsburg was still on the Supreme Court or not.
The court has moved from a 5-4 split in favor of the far-right, to a 5-3 split in favor of the far right. If the 2020 election came down to a Supreme Court case the best-case scenario would be a 4-4 split ( Maybe John Roberts realizes that the chirping sound on his shoulder is a conscience and he sides with the liberal justices before finally knocking Jiminy Cricket off his shoulder and stomping him to death so there’s nothing left but a little top hat and penny-loafers) and that would revert back to the lower court, which could easily be in Republican hands. In other words, the Supreme Court was going to be young and conservative for the foreseeable future.
Further, let’s be clear, Mitch McConnell has stated no Democratic president will EVER get another Supreme Court nominee confirmed so long as he’s Senate Majority leader. So Bader Ginsburg’s passing is only a reminder of the inevitable, not some new status quo. Does Bader Ginsburg passing make the hill a little harder to climb? Definitely. Does that mean it’s time to freak out? Not necessarily because it all depends on the outcome of the election, which is the most important point.
“This is going to drive conservative turnout” one colleague told me. “Republicans care more about justices than Democrats” another texted me. “We’re doomed” said another. The tearing of cloth and gnashing of teeth is understandable, but the Machiavellian reality is that when it comes to politics, Ginsburg’s passing is a neutral to dare I say, a net positive for Democrats in the 2020 election. I know nobody wants to hear that; Democrats are notoriously cynical about their electoral chances while Republicans are notoriously delusional about theirs. Here are the facts though : There are no undecided voters in 2020 and Trump support has already peaked.
Let me repeat that for anybody who’s still listening to political hot takes from t.v. analysts. There ARE NO UNDECIDED VOTERS in 2020. No one in America is deciding between Trump and Biden 50 days before an election, they’re only deciding if they’re going to vote or not vote, not whom to vote for. Republicans who are motivated by conservative judicial appointments are super voters who have already been polled and are baked into the electoral cake. There’s no huge swath of Trump supporters in Maricopa County Arizona who were going to sit 2020 out until RBG died and now they’re going to the polls.
However, there ARE Democrats who are motivated by the Supreme Court now, and do you know how we know? The 2018 Mid-Terms. What turned white women from the pejorative 53% to the blue wave of 2018? Brett Kavanaugh. Those hearings were so explosive, so horrific and so offensive to so many Americans, especially women, especially white women, that they voted in droves, and gave Democrats a 40-seat majority in the House of Representatives. Kavanaugh’s confirmation moved more Democrats to the polls than Republicans.
Democratic consultants have been wondering how to keep that same energy in 2020 and now that RBG has passed they’ve got it. This is the hypothetical Doomsday scenario that Democrats have always wanted. It pushes those remaining politically aware but reluctant voters, the activists who realize Pro-Choice could be over, disaffected Sanders voters who nevertheless idolize Ginsburg, the college kid who just finished their virtual constitutional law class), to make sure they double-check their registration and vote.
“If the election is won by Joe Biden in a large enough fashion chances are Democrats have won or tied the Senate which could potentially slow or even stop a Trump nominee from being voted on before inauguration…”Dr. Jason Johnson
When we get right down to it, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing is a major loss (maybe not for kneeling NFL players, but nobody is perfect), and a time for mourning and reflection, but not a time to freak out. She wasn’t going to impact the 2020 election, America may still have two months before there is a Senate vote, and if the election is won by Joe Biden in a large enough fashion chances are Democrats have won or tied the Senate which could potentially slow or even stop a Trump nominee from being voted on before inauguration. Is this the best-case scenario? Of course not. However it’s not time to freak out, it’s not doomsday, and we’re not “F@cked”. Get out, vote, double-check your registration, and bring three friends for good measure. Everything Ginsburg fought for her entire career is a stake, and we still have a chance, no matter how slim to protect her legacy and the future of this country.
Dr. Jason Johnson is a professor of Politics and Journalism at Morgan State University, a Political Contributor at MSNBC and SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio. Notorious comic book and sports guy with dual Wakandan and Zamundan citizenship.