To Panic and Pessimism: I Dissent


Photo by Rachael Kucharski

A vigil honoring the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside of the Dirksen Federal Building downtown Chicago on Sept. 19.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a revolutionary feminist icon and Supreme Court judge, passed away Friday evening. In her twenty-seven years of service at the federal level, she became famous for her unwavering support of marginalized people, especially women, and her death is an incredible loss.

It also comes at a tumultuous time: her passing means President Trump will likely nominate a Supreme Court Justice before his presidency is over. Unless Senate Republicans uphold their reasoning to block Obama’s nominees at the end of his presidency—that confirming Supreme Court nominees in an election year denies voters a say— it’s possible that conservative judges will outnumber liberal ones 6-3. 

This conservative majority might mean the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the case that declared women’s rights to a legal and safe abortion constitutional, or even Obergefell v. Hodges,  the case that declared the same for gay marriage. 

As news of her death broke, the immediate response for many (including myself) was fear. But that fear is not entirely based in reality, and there are plenty of reasonable scenarios that result in liberal policies. 

Sure, Senate Republicans likely won’t hold off on confirming President Trump’s nominee. But the rush to confirm one so quickly is a reminder that the Senate is likely to change dramatically, and Republicans know it. After the election on Nov. 3, Democrats are expected to hold a majority in the Senate, leading to far more liberal policies— regardless of the makeup of the Supreme Court.

“I dissent” became a slogan associated with RBG in the early 2000’s, when she made a jarring dissent in the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision. Her name, image and slogan became an American symbol of democracy, equality and feminism. (Photo by Rachael Kucharski)

The push is also to ensure that presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is six points ahead of President Trump in recent national polls, won’t be able to appoint a liberal judge. Still, it’s possible that Clarence Thomas, arguably the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court, resigns (or passes) during Biden’s presidency, restoring the court as it was before RBG’s death. 

The most likely scenario, though, is this: federal judicial reform. Democrats have long argued that the number of justices on the Supreme Court should be raised, allowing for a more stable ratio for both parties. It’s also been suggested that judges serve a fixed term: this way, the appointment of justices is not left to fate. With all signs pointing toward a liberal House, Senate and President, there’s little in the way of judicial reform.

Yes, millions of people’s rights are at stake, and our feelings of despair and fear are only natural. But RBG didn’t despair, and RBG wasn’t afraid. Through her forceful dissents and well-reasoned majority opinions, RBG shook up the political world back when women were barely accepted in it! She would not approve of our panic. She would not approve of our pessimism.

Yes, even in the face of fear—especially in the face of fear—Ruth Bader Ginsburg would dissent.