The Supreme Court’s conservative turn shakes the US presidential campaign

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Trump announces nomination of pro-life judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace progressive Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last week

Donald Trump began on Saturday the path to consolidate the turn to the right of the Supreme Court of the United States, the ultimate arbiter of much of the social and political debates in a diverse country of 330 million inhabitants. The president announced the nomination of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett, very religious and significant against abortion, as a new member of the highest court in the United States. The replacement of the progressive Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last week, due to an antithetical profile, reinforces the Republicans among its bases just over a month before the presidential elections, although it may also spur Democratic voters, fearful of social setbacks.

The election of a member of the Supreme Court is one of the most important decisions for a president of the United States, although it must then be endorsed in the Senate. The body is made up of nine magistrates for life, a condition that shields its independence from any government or legislative chamber, but which also makes it a group of all-powerful jurists in matters transcendental for the future of society: the high court legalized the right to abortion throughout the country, enshrined same-sex marriage and ended racial segregation in public schools.

Until Ginsburg’s death on September 18, there was a majority of five judges considered conservative, nominated by Republicans, to four progressives, nominated by Democrats. Trump, with the Republican majority in the Senate on his side, is preparing to place a conservative sixth member on the high court and tip the balance further. The decision not only heats up the campaign for the shift to the right of the highest judicial authority, but also because it breaks the unwritten rule that a president does not take over from a Supreme Court judge in full elections – much less when there are just 38 days to go -, but leaves that choice in the hands of the next president, whether elected or re-elected, as would be the case.

The president announced this Saturday his nominee from the White House, but on Friday night the US press already advanced that the chosen one was Amy Coney Barrett, a religious and conservative jurist, known for her fierce opposition to abortion. “She is a woman of the highest intellect, imposing and unwavering loyalty to the Constitution,” said Trumo when presenting her in the gardens of the official residence. Barrett was an assistant to another conservative Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia (who died in 2016), but her career as a judge is very short. Trump appointed her in 2017 to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, where her conservative court rulings and her. At just 48 years old, she could serve on the high court for decades.

Both Trump and his nominee spoke words of praise to the figure of Ginsburg, a progressive icon, capital in the feminist advances of the United States. The president referred to her as “a giant of law and a pioneer for women.” Her replacement by a jurist in the ideological antipodes of many social struggles will shake the campaign. Barrett emphasized the close friendship of Scalia, her mentor, with Ginsburg. It will be, if confirmed by the Senate, the fifth woman to join that stage in history.

The other two judges now active in the Supreme Court are part of the progressive minority, with three members: Sonia Sotomayor, 66, nominated by Obama in 2009; Elena Kagan, 60, also nominated by the Democrat, in 2010; and the oldest of all, Stephen Breyer, 82, chosen by Bill Clinton in 1994. Conservatives include Clarence Thomas, 72, appointed by George Bush Sr. in 1991; Samuel Alito, 70, confirmed in 2005 during the Bush Jr. Administration; the president of the court, John Roberts, 65, appointed the same year by the same president; and the two most recent, nominated by Donald Trump in 2017 and 2018, respectively: Neil Gorsuch, 53, and Brett Kanaugh, 55.

If the confirmation of Amy Coney Barnett goes ahead, Trump will have achieved the political victory of having placed up to three judges in a single term, more than any other president except Richard Nixon, who in his first administration nominated four. The guarantee of incorporating more conservative magistrates into the Supreme Court, or avoiding the arrival of progressives, was one of the main reasons why many traditional Republican voters were loyal and voted for a candidate like Trump, whom many saw as populist and unprepared. According to some subsequent polls, 26% of the voters of the current president said that the court was the most decisive factor to vote.

Now, the confirmation process in the Upper House has all the ingredients to become a drama of the first order in an already bankrupt Capitol, which just a few months ago was debating the impeachment to its president. The Republicans will proceed to confirm a new member of the Supreme Court trampling on the same arguments they made before Obama in 2016. In February of that year the conservative Scalia passed away and the Democratic president proposed as his replacement Merrick Garland, a moderate progressive, when the elections were nine months away. Republicans blocked him in the Senate for all that time and it was Trump who, months later, installed Gorsuch.

Now there are less than 40 days until the appointment with the polls, on November 3, and the president’s party prepares a confirmation process express to replace a recently deceased judge. “I’m going to be clear: the voters must choose the president, and that president must choose the replacement for Justice Ginsburg,” protested Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, shortly after the judge’s death. But yours don’t have enough senators to prevent it. Republicans control 53 of the 100 seats, in addition to the Justice Committee, which is the one that debates Trump’s proposal, convenes hearings to examine the proposed judge and is also chaired by Lindsey Graham, one of the most loyal legislators to the agent. The one in charge of taking the vote to the plenary session is also the majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

The process will permeate the campaign for the White House and also the elections to the Senate, which is partially renewed on November 3, although that race is often overshadowed by the presidential one. The replacement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by a conservative magistrate puts the focus on those 35 seats at stake.

Even if they lost the majority, Republicans have time to confirm the new magistrate before the inauguration, in January, of the elected senators. Still, with some elderly Supreme Court justices, those seats matter for the evangelical vote, satisfied with Trump, and weigh on progressive voters, concerned about the future of the Supreme. The high court must take this course important decisions on abortion, on Obama’s health reform, immigration or the elections themselves.

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