The R.B.G. Factor

The R.B.G. Factor


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will represent a turning point in U.S. judicial history regardless of how the fight over her replacement proceeds. Her legacy will not be besmirched despite all the efforts of her opponents. She had a solid record and reputation before she even ascended to the High Court and her years on the Bench only solidified and insured her place for the ages.

The ugly fighting and debating which developed immediately after she took her last breath is a disgrace to the nation. Never have the institutions of American Government been so emasculated as they have over the past four years. If indeed, as is expected, President Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proceed with their plan to nominate and vote on her replacement prior to  the election, it will add further indignity to a great jurist and defame the most respected institution in the land.

There is a curious question which undoubtedly President Trump’s advisors understand but which the President will disregard. Trump wants to replace Justice Ginsburg with another woman to demonstrate that he cares about women’s issues. He expects that a woman nominee will expand his hope to bring back the “suburban” women voters among whom the polls suggest he is trailing significantly.  Selecting a woman who is committed to overturning Roe vs. Wade, however, will not deliver any additional votes to the President. The pro-life vote already is solidly in his camp. Selecting a strong right-wing woman will only drive more independent women away.

There is an ironic twist to the sadness of the passing of Justice Ginsburg in that its impact on the presidential election will probably consist only of one round of questioning during the first debate. Her death was too far from Election Day to be exploited effectively by the President to enhance his electoral prospects. For the next several decades a replacement selected by President Trump will have a huge impact on the nation; but it is not likely to have much of an impact on his re-election bid. In fact, President Trump’s electoral prospects may well be negatively impacted by the hoopla he is creating regarding filling her seat on the Court. In fact, he may well drive independent voters over to the Biden camp.

On a psychological level, with six weeks remaining before the election, the President is violating his traditional norms of thinking of his own needs before the party and the country. Appointing an extreme conservative to the Supreme Court will undoubtedly make his right-wing base very happy, but in the process, Trump is likely to lose his own re-election as well as a Republican majority in the Senate. Considering how self-centered the President is and how he has conducted the affairs of country, this action may well push some of the more shaky GOP Senate races from red to blue. Since everything with Trump is personal, the only explanation might be for his  moving ahead with a Court nominee immediately, is that it might guarantee that the President will never be prosecuted.



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