As many of you know, my father Joe was an attorney so I’ve been involved in and appreciative of the law and the judicial system for as long as I can remember.
When I was a kid my Dad taught me that the Supreme Court — both arguing before it or being appointed to it — represented the pinnacle of American jurisprudence. That lesson has made a lasting impression as anyone who visits bhlaws.com will quickly see. The home page of our site features a picture of the inscription that adorns the entrance to the Supreme Court building: “Equal Justice Under Law.”
Given my reverence for the court, you won’t be surprised to learn I’m grieving today. But not simply for the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who will almost certainly be ranked as one of the greatest justices of all time for her fearless and relentless pursuit of “Equal Justice Under Law” for women, minorities, workers and the LGBTQ community.
While Justice Ginsburg’s death is distressing, I’m also mourning for the court itself because the institution created by the Founding Fathers to be both an independent check on the legislative and executive branches of government as well as a fierce defender of the rights of the American people no longer exists.
While I’ve been edging toward that conclusion for a number of years, the rush to name Justice Ginsburg’s successor just hours after her death convinced me that the Court which was once a bastion of impartiality that issued rulings based on our Constitution and laws has now been soiled by our toxic political process.
And we will all suffer as a result.
Lest more conservative readers think I am directing my ire solely at the current administration and Senate majority, I’ll readily admit Democrats started us down this slippery slope in 1987 when they rejected Judge Robert Bork’s nomination to the Court because he had written of his desire to roll back civil rights decisions issued by the Justice Earl Warren and Justice Warren E. Burger courts.
The ugly battle over Clarence Thomas’s nomination and eventual confirmation in 1991 only served to exacerbate the situation.
Since then the nomination process has become increasingly contentious and acrimonious, culminating in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to even hold confirmation hearings for Judge Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s choice to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia who died unexpectedly in February 2016.
McConnell said it wouldn’t be fair to confirm a nominee in a presidential election year because “…the American people should seize the opportunity to weigh in on whom they trust to nominate the next person for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”
We all know what happened next. And we all know what is happening now. McConnell’s 2016 reasoning is inoperable and it appears certain that Justice Ginsburg’s replacement will be named and confirmed this year.
My thoughts on the impact a Court dominated by conservatives will have on the nation aside, the move to replace Justice Ginsburg before the election will continue to undermine the public’s faith in the judicial system and that, as much as the decisions the Court will render, threatens the very future of our nation.
— Attorney David Betras, a senior partner at Betras, Kopp & Harshman LLC., directs the firm’s non-litigation activities and practices criminal defense law in both the state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Have a legal question you'd like answered here? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.