Supreme Court: how will RBG's death affect the US?

After the death of liberal Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shortly before the presidential election in November, US President Donald Trump can nominate her successor. If confirmed by the Senate, his decision could cement a clear conservative majority in the court. Observers examine what this would mean for the country.

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Politiken (DK) /

Adding fuel to the fire

Another conflict is the last thing the US needs right now, Politiken points out:

“The combination of Trump's shameless populism, the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis has put the political system and its institutions under extreme pressure and ensured that the November elections will polarise US society. ... The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is adding fuel to the fire. The Supreme Court is one of the country's most powerful institutions, affecting the citizens's most private spheres. ... In view of an extremely important election in which postal voting and corona restrictions could lead to many conflicts and legal disputes, it does't take much imagination to realise that a Supreme Court with a new, hastily appointed judge could make the situation even worse.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Trump risks turning women against him

US President Donald Trump plans to present a successor to "RBG" this week. De Volkskrant columnist Heleen Mees warns of the consequences:

“Any other American president would have honoured the life and work of Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week. But not Donald Trump. Trump is presenting a successor this week even though it was Ginsburg's greatest wish not to be replaced before a new president was installed in office. Trump even accused Ginsburg's granddaughter of lying about this last wish of her grandmother. But that could well backfire on 3 November. Not all women in the US aspire to a life and career like Ginsburg had. But most women are aware that they partly owe their freedom and opportunities to Ginsburg's radical ideals.”

Slate (FR) /

Legitimacy problems are inevitable

Slate voices concern about the US's democratic constitution:

“A president who lost the election in numerical terms (Hillary Clinton received about 2.9 million more votes than Trump) is about to appoint his third Supreme Court judge (for life). ... If Trump prevails, the Supreme Court will be made up of a majority of judges appointed by presidents who lost the election by votes (Donald Trump and George W. Bush), and confirmed by senators who represent less than half the country. Can one still talk of legitimate institutions if they don't reflect the will of the people?”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

More conservative court needn't be a Trump court

A Supreme Court dominated by the Republicans could serve as a handy bogeyman for the Democrats, Helsingin Sanomat argues:

“The traditional constellation of Republicans vs. Democrats no longer corresponds to reality in a country where Trump's nationalist populism is far removed from the traditional Republican line. The judges nominated by Trump so far are traditional Republicans and strict legalists, not Trump radicals. They wouldn't necessarily support Trump if the Supreme Court had to rule on the outcome of the presidential elections. For the Democrats, a more conservative court would be a defeat, but it could also have advantages. Those who want change need a wall to break down. A conservative Supreme Court could make a good enemy for the Democrats to target.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Judges also play the political game

For the Wiener Zeitung Trump isn't the only problem:

“Supreme courts also have the power to undermine democracy if they submit to the base logic of party competition. ... The biggest accusation one can level [at Trump] is that he is willing - and causing others - to bend written and unwritten rules in his favour in a way that's never been done before. But Trump didn't invent this - far from it. There's nothing new about the powerful taking what they're not denied. ... Arthur Kennedy was arguably the last Supreme Court justice to be appointed by both parties, and that was in 1987 under Ronald Reagan. Since then, both Republicans and Democrats have treated the nomination of high judges as a zero-sum game where there are only winners and losers. Also because the judges, elected for life, don't withdraw from this game even once they're elected.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Supreme Court could tip the scales

Jutarnji list believes that the process of choosing a successor to Ruth Bader Ginsburg could determine the outcome of the presidential elections:

“[Republican] Senator Ted Cruz pointed out what is perhaps the biggest problem by stressing that the Supreme Court could play an even bigger role in confirming the election results this year than it did in Florida in 2000. Because of the pandemic, a significant proportion of the population may use postal voting for the first time. The existing situation with eight judges [instead of nine] could lead to a stalemate that further complicates the separation of powers - in these turbulent times when strong leadership is such an imperative.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Spotlight on the crisis of US democracy

De Standaard is worried about the US judiciary's political dependence:

“The successor [to Ruth Bader Ginsburg] is decided by the president, whose job may depend on a decision of the highest court in the event of a disputed election result. You would have to be very steadfast in order to rule against the man to whom you owe your appointment. The fact that an institution like the Supreme Court is caught in a war of positions between Democrats and Republicans is exemplary of the democratic crisis in which the country finds itself. The paradox is that Bader Ginsburg loathed the politicisation of the US Supreme Court, but at the same time - intentionally or not - as a progressive figurehead, she herself contributed to it.”

Kleine Zeitung (AT) /

More than just the president's jumping jacks

The Kleine Zeitung is more optimistic:

“If a conservative majority of judges catapults the country back into the Neolithic era in terms of social policy, it would be a nightmare scenario for many liberal-minded Americans. However, it's by no means certain that that will actually be the case. With a series of spectacular judgments that have rapped the knuckles of the Trump administration, the conservative members of the Supreme Court have shown that they do not see themselves as the president's jumping jacks, but as the guardians of the American constitution. It's an old phenomenon: the office shapes its owner. America's democracy is more solid than many think.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

Fragile Senate majority

The Republicans in the US Senate must take care not to become entangled in contradictions, Der Tagesspiegel stresses:

“The Republican Senators of Maine and Alaska have joined the Democrats in demanding that the question of who should be the next Supreme Court judge be decided by the newly elected president. ... And more senators could follow suit. The Democrats will put major pressure on all the shaky Republican candidates and point to their line of argument in 2016: not Obama (president at the time) should decide who succeeds Scalia, they said, but the newly elected president. That way, they explained, the people could make their influence felt. What will be more important to the senators in question: Trump's third Supreme Court appointment after Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, or their own re-election?”