The death of the iconic Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has shocked the political world, altered the contours of the upcoming election and induced an overwhelming dread among liberals who fear some basic rights could now be in jeopardy.
President Donald Trump and his Republican accomplices in the Senate may want to jam a nominee through the confirmation process, but it remains unclear whether the Senate will hold a vote before Election Day. If it did, it would represent a colossal act of hypocrisy since many of the same senators refused to even give Barack Obama’s last nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing, arguing that it was inappropriate to fill a seat on the court in an election year.
But Republicans have the power to force a vote, and barring defections, they could exercise it.
This is all about power for a group of people who feel their grip on power slipping away.
They are trying to reshape the courts for a generation, if not longer, so that as their numerical advantage slips away, their power imbalance will have already been enshrined. As America becomes less religious and less white, more galvanized to fight climate change, more open to legalizing marijuana and more aware of systemic racism, the religious conservative spine of the Republican Party is desperate for a way to save a way of life that may soon be rendered a relic.
According to the Pew Research Center, 78% of white evangelical voters are Republicans or lean Republican. So are 62% of white men without a college degree, 60% of rural southerners and 57% of people who attend religious services weekly.
Many of those demographics are under threat. The United States will be majority-minority by 2045, and by 2060 there will be nearly as many Hispanic children in the country as white ones.
At the same time, the percentage of Americans who are not affiliated with a religion keeps rising — up 9 percentage points since 2009, to 26% in 2019 — and the percentage of people identifying as Christians keeps falling — down 12 percentage points, to 65% over the same decade, according to another report from Pew.
Continued urbanization means that many of those rural southern areas are losing population. For instance, an Atlanta Journal Constitution analysis last year, reported by The Associated Press, found that:
“More than half of the small towns in Georgia — those with populations under 10,000 — have lost population since 2010. Meanwhile, only 1 in 6 towns with populations of 10,000 or above have lost residents.”
The AP then pointed out the ways these rural areas are suffering:
“Rural residents can face a myriad of challenges including access to good jobs, transportation and health care. Manufacturing jobs have dried up in many places, while modernization and new technology means fewer people are needed for farming. And many people are deciding to have smaller families than was typical a century ago.”
Lastly, the percentage of Americans with college degrees keeps rising, moving from 4.6% in 1940 to 36% in 2019.
Conservatives see all of these trends, and they are alarmed. So, they want to freeze time, or even turn it back. Their reading of the Constitution is stuck in the understanding of it when it was written. It is the same for religious texts. They want to return to a pre-1960s era, before the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement and the gay rights movement, before the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and Roe v. Wade, before the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage, before there was a Black president and a browning country.
This is why they happily cheer Trump’s attack on immigrants — both legal and undocumented. It is why they encourage efforts to disenfranchise voters. It is why Trump’s attacks on cities resonate, as does his MAGA mantra.
And this is why they will move heaven and earth to fill Ginsburg’s seat.
Controlling the courts, particularly the Supreme Court, is the surest way for these conservatives to continue to wield power even as their ranks thin.
And the rest of us have to be prepared to live in a world where the minority of the people can have most of the power. We have to come to grips with the ways in which the system is broken. A president who lost the popular vote will have nominated a third of the Supreme Court. A Senate Republican majority, which as Vox’s Ian Millhiser pointed out last year, “represents 15 million fewer people than the Democratic ‘minority,’ ” will likely vote to confirm that nominee.
What most Americans believe or want will be of little consideration. A 6-to-3 conservative advantage on the Supreme Court could be an almost impossible hurdle to clear and could lead to a turning back of the clock on many liberties we now take for granted.
Social progress is now on the chopping block. In this way, for many of us, Trump’s legacy will likely be with us for the rest of our lives.