Never has the life of a US Supreme Court justice ever been so renowned as that of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and never has the death of sitting justice ever caused such an outpouring of grief and emotion. Throughout her legal career, Ginsburg was a trailblazer and a figurehead for political, legal, and social change. Now in her death, the political upheaval will send shockwaves through Washington.

The vacancy on the US supreme court will not only shift the ideological balance of the court but also will fundamentally change the soul of the most powerful part of the US judicial branch.

After graduating joint top of her class from Columbia Law School, Ginsburg initially struggled to find employment based on her gender. She spent time in academia before turning to litigation and advocacy with a particular focus on women’s rights. She co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU and over the next few years, her work helped to make many legal advancements for women under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

In 1980, under President Jimmy Carter, Ginsburg was appointed to the DC Court of Appeals where she spent 13 years. It was in 1993 during the administration of Bill Clinton that she was nominated to the US Supreme Court. Viewed at the time as a moderate, her appointment was approved by the Senate by 96 votes to 3 making her just the second woman appointed to the court.

Gender discrimination continued to be a key part of Ginsburg’s work whilst on the court. She authored the courts 1996 verdict which struck down the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions policy on the bases of the constitution’s equal protection clause.

Her arguments in her dissent from the court in the 2007 verdict Ledbetter v. Goodyear was the basis for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The act was the first bill signed into law by Barack Obama and made it easier for employees to win pay discrimination claims. Ginsburg was also notable on the court for her consistent support for abortion rights and her advocating the use of foreign law to shape U.S law in judicial opinions.

The death of Ginsburg could have huge ramifications for the supreme court’s future. If Donald Trump successfully nominates another supreme court justice, it will be his third supreme court pick. His first two picks were replacing supreme court justices who were already chosen by Republican presidents.

However, if Ginsburg is replaced by a conservative, the ideological balance of the supreme court will be shifted dramatically for a generation. The power of the US supreme court cannot be underestimated, in 2015 gay marriage was legalised nationwide not from the president or congress but the supreme court.

In the years ahead the court could have a say in fundamental matters like Reproductive rights, voting rights, protections from discrimination, the future of criminal justice, the power of the presidency, the rights of immigrants and so much more.

Given the significance of a supreme court nomination, Donald Trump is expected to face significant democratic resistance. The confirmation requires senate approval in which the Republicans have a majority of 53-47. This clearly gives Trump a big advantage however he must be careful not to pick a too controversial nominee who would give those Republicans who face re-election this year a difficult decision to make.

One early name currently being mooted is Amy Coney Barrett, a circuit judge of the US court of appeals who is known to have socially conservative views. If the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh is anything to go by, filling the vacant seat on the Supreme Court will cause chaos and will create a massive amount of political uncertainty. The only thing that can be said with certainty is the replacement will find it impossible to match the stature and achievements of the great Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

Conor Paterson – Features Editor