It didn’t take long for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s hospitalization this week to turn deeply political.
The Supreme Court justice is participating in oral arguments Wednesday by teleconference. She’s staying at Johns Hopkins while recovering from treatment for a minor gallbladder infection. The high court expects to see her back in a day or two.
Partisan activists began politicizing Ginsburg’s health the moment reports of her hospitalization hit the newswire. She’s been through much worse, including more than one fight with cancer. And throughout the monumental legal mind’s health struggles, there’s been an ever-present push and pull on her.
Democrats want her to hang on until a president of their party can nominate her successor. She’s doing exactly that. Republicans want her to retire.
President Donald Trump already filled two Supreme Court vacancies in his first term. Every time Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s name trends on Twitter, liberals panic. They rejoiced in 2018 when she signaled she’ll wait until after the 2020 election to retire.
Her health scare this week touched off another round of politicization:
The commentary over Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been something like a scene from “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.”
Republicans are putting her on the cart to haul off for burial as Ginsburg protests, “I’m not quite dead yet!”
But they would disagree and say Ginsburg is more like the Black Knight who continues to insist, as he loses limbs, “It’s nothing. It’s a flesh wound!.”
The American form of government has long held up the ideal of an independent judiciary. That extends from the courts’ sole purview over interpreting and applying the law, to its independence from partisan influence in the other branches.
But untangling the judicial branch from the realities of political import is no easy matter.
There can be no doubt that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s successor will have a lasting political impact. But Ginsburg is the tip of the judicial iceberg.
Under the Supreme Court is a vast federal judiciary. And Donald Trump has already completely transformed the third branch of the American government on a scale that no other president has in recent memory.
Trump’s impact on the federal judiciary has been profound. If there’s a contest about the future of law, of judicial interpretations, Republicans have won.
Even if Trump were to lose reelection in November, his federal court nominations have already pulled the nation’s center of gravity to the right for decades.
Should he win a second term, he’ll put a seal on that with a double helping of very bright, typically young, and ideologically conservative judges.
So Ruth Bader Ginsburg is more than just a Supreme Court justice, even though that role on its own is crucial enough for America’s future. She also powerfully represents what’s at stake in the 2020 presidential election.
Because while conservatives and liberals keep up a spectacular sideshow of battling over Trump’s every misspelled tweet, a judicial revolution has quietly been raging behind the scenes.
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