RBG’s Final Wish Inspires ‘Ruthless’ Battle to Stop Confirmation of New Justice Before Next President Elected

Interview with Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way, conducted by Scott Harris

Feminist icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who fought most of her life for women’s and LGBTQ rights, passed away at the age of 87, after serving 27 years on the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18 after a long battle with cancer, was celebrated in life as the “Notorious RBG,” for issuing tough dissenting opinions against an increasingly conservative Supreme Court. Before being nominated as a Federal Appeals Court judge in 1980, Ginsburg served as director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, where she took on hundreds of gender discrimination cases, winning five of six landmark cases before the Supreme Court.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell infamously justified his decision not to give President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland a hearing or vote after Justice Scalia died in February 2016, nine months before Election Day, saying no high court nominee should be considered in a presidential election year. But now he and the Republican Senate intend to do just that, by holding a vote on President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ginsburg just six weeks before the Nov. 3 election.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Ben Jealous, president of People for the American Way, who previously served as president and CEO of the NAACP. Here, he discusses the campaign being launched by dozens of progressive groups across the nation to stop the GOP-controlled Senate from considering any nominee proposed by Trump.

BEN JEALOUS: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, like Thurgood Marshall before her, was a great warrior for justice long before she became a Supreme Court justice. And that’s why the Notorious RBG — as my 14-year-old daughter calls her — is such a treasure to so many in our country, so deeply respected and so missed. We are very much in the moment. The Republicans wasted no time in dishonoring her memory, even though she died on Rosh Hashanah, a sacred holiday when people are celebrating the New Year and celebrating all good things, there was Mitch McConnell dishonoring her memory. Donald Trump has already accelerated — even before her funeral — finding her successor fueled by special interests, trying to push through another extreme right justice before this election, even though the voting process has already begun in several states. And so that’s where we are right now. And we’re just going to have to rise to this moment.

SCOTT HARRIS: As most of our listeners are aware of, Mitch McConnell, infamously justified his decision not to give Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, a Senate hearing or a vote after Justice (Antonin) Scalia died in 2016, nine months before the presidential election that year, saying that no nominee to the Supreme Court should be considered in a presidential election year. Now weeks before the Nov. 3 election, Mitch McConnell and many of his Republican Senate colleagues plan to go forward on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, disregarding their 2016 precedent. It just seems like such blatant hypocrisy. You hope that there’s accountability in this world for that kind of dishonesty. But I’m losing hope day by day. What are some of your thoughts on the penalty, if any, for this blatant kind of hypocrisy that we’re seeing here by the Republicans?

BEN JEALOUS: Well, look, first of all, we cannot allow Mitch McConnell to rope-a-dope us into believing that we are powerless. We only need four Republicans to join a coalition of conscience with the Democrats. We already definitely have two: (Susan) Collins and (Lisa) Murkowski, right? And then there’s a long list of possible targets for that.

And we have People for the American Way. We are building movements in Iowa, Colorado, Arizona, South Carolina. Other folks we’re working with, they’re building movements in North Carolina, Maine, Tennessee — all targeting one or both senators in that state, hold them to their word, to push them towards their better angels to convince them they simply won’t win their election. Or in the case of Lamar Alexander in Tennessee, won’t have the legacy that they hope to have if they don’t do the right thing in this moment. And the only way you can insert steel into the backbone of a senator is through the people of his state, people of her state. And so that’s why we’re building movements in these states. We’re hiring new organizers, linking them with old organizers. You know, in the case of South Carolina, I mean, we will be running ads with those words.

SCOTT HARRIS: Ben Jealous, if the worst case scenario should occur and a right-wing judge is confirmed by the U.S. Senate before the election, there are some people out there that are advising the Democrats — if they should win the White House and win the Senate, to do what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in 1937 and add some more justices to the Supreme Court to rebalance what many view is a very unfair situation, given what Mitch McConnell has done in 2016 and may go forward on doing this year. What’s your view of packing the court?

BEN JEALOUS: You know, right now all options should be on the table. With that said, we need to stay focused. We need to stay disciplined, build the movement in these states. We should not put our kind of entire hopes to an idea that will require a number of things to fall in place to even be possible. Oh, well, we know what we can do right now – is kind of say the Serenity Prayer – like what can we change right now? We can change the state of the movement in Iowa and Colorado and South Carolina and Tennessee and Arizona. And that’s what we’re focused on right now. This is about pre-existing conditions. This is about health care in the midst of a health pandemic.

On the 10th of November, there’ll be arguments at the Supreme Court about whether or not the ACA’s protection of people with pre-existing conditions should stand. And let’s be clear. The latest new, big set of pre-existing conditions are, ‘Have you survived COVID-19?’ So we will literally have millions of Americans, all who have survived COVID-19, just to lose their health insurance because Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell pushed through another far right-wing justice before this election. This is going to be a tense fight. We have to worry about protecting Roe v. Wade, which Trump intends to overturn to retain our country’s ability at least one day, be a real ally in any climate change, protecting LGBTQ equality, protecting voting rights, a whole range of civil rights protections. And there are groups that care most about any one of those, but all of us, what we have in common is the need to protect our health. And so in this moment, we have to be clear that we are building a movement to make sure that the Supreme Court is not used as a tool by Donald Trump, by Mitch McConnell, to gut the Affordable Care Act and to put Americans who have pre-existing conditions back in peril.

For more information, visit People For The American Way at pfaw.org.

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