The death of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has sent the already fraught politics of Supreme Court confirmation into crisis. But the panic that followed the news of Ginsburg’s death, given the heightened stakes of the 2020 election, has served one useful purpose: It’s made it clearer than ever that Supreme Court reform is an urgent democratic cause, one that requires rethinking the federal judiciary from the ground up.
The mandate for this reconsideration could not be more glaring. President Donald Trump has nominated ardent conservative Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ginsburg’s seat, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is seizing the opportunity to consolidate right-wing control of the institution for generations. Democrats have decried Republicans’ decision to fast-track Barrett’s confirmation prior to the election—an act of brazen hypocrisy, given Republicans’ refusal to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016 on the grounds that an election-year confirmation would deprive the American people of the opportunity to exercise their democratic will. Still, McConnell’s shameless power grab has inadvertently triggered a once-in-a-century opportunity to truly confront and repair the damage that the high court’s incredible power has done to the workings of American politics. As with other structural challenges, however, success can only be achieved if Democrats play their hand more astutely than their opponents do.
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