Geoffrey Stone Reviews Book on the Supreme Court's 2020-2021 Term

Review: Linda Greenhouse Warns that the Supreme Court is 'On the Brink'

In Justice on the Brink: The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Rise of Amy Coney Barrett, and Twelve Months that Transformed the Supreme Court, Linda Greenhouse offers a detailed, insightful and powerful analysis of the current state of the Supreme Court and of the potential impact of Donald Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Greenhouse for more than three decades has established herself as perhaps the most influential commentator on the Supreme Court. As suggested by her title, in this work she focuses on what may well be a truly pivotal shift in the mission and role of the Court in our American democracy.

At the core of Greenhouse’s analysis is the Court’s performance during the 2020-2021 Term. On September 18, 2020, Ginsburg died of metastatic pancreatic cancer. She was the best known member of the Court, and Greenhouse notes that the nation was “stunned by her death and by its implications, with Election Day only six weeks ahead.” For Senator Mitch McConnell, “this was not a time for mourning, but for business, and he was ready.” Although McConnell had blocked President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland allegedly because it occurred in the final year of Obama’s term, he raced to confirm Trump’s nomination of Barrett to replace Ginsburg in the days before the 2020 election.

As Greenhouse observes, at this critical moment in the Court’s history Barrett “was the perfect choice.” What the Republicans wanted most was a justice who would advance religious freedom and vote to overrule Roe v. Wade. Indeed, this goal had been central to the Republican mission for decades, and as Barrett declared in a commencement speech in 2006 to law students at Notre Dame, her own alma mater, “keep in mind that your legal career is but a means to an end,” and that end “is building the kingdom of God.” With Barrett’s confirmation on an almost perfect party-line vote only eight days before the election, the Court, as Greenhouse notes, now had six Republican-appointed justices, all of whom had been raised Catholic. This was no accident.

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The judiciary