RBG’s death: A time to mourn but also to organize
A time to mourn, but also a time to organize: People gather at the Supreme Court in Washington, Saturday night, Sept. 19, 2020, to honor the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion of gender equality. Her death leaves a vacancy that could be filled with a more conservative justice by President Donald Trump. The time to organize and pressure GOP Senators to delay a vote is now. | J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Immediately upon hearing of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the night of Rosh Hashanah, thousands massed spontaneously in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington to mourn. They recognized, and on Sunday Joe Biden reminded us, that the first person to die in the Jewish New Year is a soul of great righteousness.

Let that gathering on the night of RBG’s death remind us of something else: We are not helpless as Trump and the right wing now move to quickly replace an icon of women’s, civil, and human rights with yet another right-wing ideologue who would make the Supreme Court a servant of the corporate elite in America.

The people are in a position to compel U.S. Senators who are vulnerable in the face of an angry majority in this country that has already lost too much.

Mourn

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg discusses the Courts and Women’s Rights during an address before the International Women’s Forum in Washington, Oct. 15, 1999. | Doug Mills / AP

RBG’s death came as the death toll of Americans whose rights she so dearly cherished passed the 200,000 mark. Those deaths came in the midst of a pandemic made so much worse than it had to be by what has been called the “homicidal neglect” of the Trump administration.

Before Trump was elected Justice Ginsburg said she could hardly imagine what terrible things would befall us if he became president. Sadly, and tragically, she had her answer at the moment of her death.

She spoke her words of warning and fear about a Trump election in 2016. Since then, after four years of battling on the court, for women’s, civil, LGBTQ, workers’, and human rights and after four years of battling the aggressive cancer that eventually took her life, she wrote her “most fervent wish” in a note to a relative. It was a wish that her replacement on the court not be made until after the swearing in of a new president next January.

That wish is both the wish and the demand now of the majority of the people in the nation. Millions must speak up now and put pressure on Republican lawmakers.

We honor Justice Ginsburg because of her historic role in the fight for gender equality. Long before she ever got to the Supreme Court, she addressed men on this issue, men whom she described as “our brethren.” It is time, she said, for those “brethren” to “get their feet off our necks.”

Since the time she said that more than 40 years ago, she cut a trail through the thick woods of gender oppression. She was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court and the first Jewish woman to do so. When she graduated at the top of her law class at Columbia University, she could not get a job because she was a woman, a Jew, and pregnant. From that position of “disadvantage,” she rose up to help lead a fight for the rights of all Americans, and she eventually took that fight into the highest court in the land when she was named to it.

She first rose to prominence as a litigator for and director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project in the 1970s. The organization’s current head, Ria Tabacco Mar, said this weekend that RBG’s time leading the group proved to be “a real turning point for situating women’s rights not just as a gender issue, but as a civil rights issue that affected all of us.”

Before then, the Supreme Court had never used the U.S. Constitution’s “equal protection of the laws” guarantee to block discrimination. In 1971, Ginsburg led the fight on a case which changed that, persuading the Court to strike down an Idaho law that had given men preference over women in administering the estates of the dead.

In 1973, just two years later, she appeared before the Court herself for the first time and prevailed in convincing justices that spousal benefits should be made available to both women and men whose partners served in the Air Force.

These were just the earliest of the cases which eventually cemented her legacy as a voice for progress and equality.

Alliance for Justice president Nan Aron put it this way: “Justice Ginsburg blazed trails on her way to greatness, authoring and joining opinions that advanced women’s equality, LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedoms, and so many other protections so many hold dear.”

Organize

Justice Ginsburg’s death on the night of Rosh Hashannah came at an inflection point in U.S. history. With hundreds of thousands now dead because their government failed to protect them, America is closing in on perhaps its most consequential election ever. Donald Trump and his entire right-wing criminal cabal are about to face their day of reckoning.

We do not disrespect RBG’s memory by talking about politics at this time. Given her record, it is unimaginable that RBG would want us to do anything else.

Donald Trump is determined to nominate someone to replace Ginsburg. He has already announced that her wishes about her replacement mean nothing to him. But if there is one thing RBG’s life should teach us it is that the choice of her successor is not up to Donald Trump alone.

First, there is the obvious fact that his nominee has to be approved by the full Senate. The Republicans control the Senate 53 to 47, and they are led by Mitch McConnell, a champion of the corporate right in this country. Yet McConnell faces some potential roadblocks, both systemic and political.

On the systemic side is the reality that the quickest Supreme Court confirmation in the last 30 years was 42 days, with the average confirmation taking 75 days.

Procedurally there are things Democrats can do, assuming they stick together. The wide range of tactics available to them, including time-consuming demands for unanimous consent, make it almost impossible for a Trump nominee to be vetted, considered by the Judiciary Committee, and debated and voted upon by Election Day.

So far, two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, have declared they will not join the McConnell-Trump rush job. If two more come on board, the GOP won’t be able to ram through the Trump nominee.

No confirmation until inauguration: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the Supreme Court to honor the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. | Cliff Owen / AP

Voters in any state represented by a Republican senator must make their voices heard. That means organizing has to take place in a lot more places than just the swing states that typically get all the attention in election years.

This is where politics and mass pressure come in to play. Considerations about the coming election could pressure other Republicans to join Murkowski and Collins. Mass actions and targeted lobbying in the states that have vulnerable Republicans need to happen now.

With sufficient pressure, Democrats can eventually take other actions, including increasing the size of the Supreme Court if they control the Senate next year. Doing something like that or even making the District of Columbia a state would not be seen as out of order if the GOP succeeds in ramming through a Trump pick on the court before the American people make their choice of a new president. The GOP refused to even give a hearing to Merrick Garland after he was nominated by President Obama when the latter still had 293 days remaining in his term. After having done that and then ramming through another right-wing ideologue now, Democrats would be within their rights to take what some call a “nuclear option.”

The key thing now, however, is to mobilize popular action to stop GOP confirmation of a justice who will put the highest court in the land in the hands of anti-labor corporate servants for decades to come.

Yes, we mourn the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg but the best way to mourn that loss is to organize. Let’s demand that the GOP not ram through a replacement without hearing from the American people. Let’s clean Trump and his entire criminal cabal out of the White House in November.

ELECTION 2020: Everything you need to know to vote in your state


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CONTRIBUTOR

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

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