The U.S. Supreme Court has been thrust into the political spotlight, following the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. For our Split Ticket series, we’re following four Western Pennsylvania voters for one year, and looking at how issues like the Supreme Court influence their choices. With just a month until the general election, the fight over Ginsburg’s replacement underscores the tensions of a divisive election year.
‘God’s hand at work’
Before Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, Republican Mary Henze wanted her to retire.
“Girlfriend, take a break,” she said of Ginsburg in early September. “You don't have much time left.”
Henze is in her fifties, lives in Jefferson Hills, and has been on disability for about a decade. She believes President Trump’s choice to replace Ginsburg -- conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett -- would protect gun rights, and help overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that guaranteed the right to an abortion.
“I hope and I pray that he [wins] the election and that we are able to put a conservative on the court to overturn that decision,” she said. “That would be God's hand at work.”
Henze and other conservatives are excited about Trump’s third Supreme Court pick, who has articulated anti-abortion and anti-LGBT stances.
Republican Ed Cwiklinski wants to see Barrett confirmed too, despite his not knowing anything about her yet. He believes the best way to depoliticize the court is to appoint conservatives.
“They're going to be more apt to rule based on judicial law and being the umpire than to insert themselves as well,” he said.
Cwiklinski is in his forties, lives in Bethel Park, and works in information security. He supports Republican efforts to confirm Barrett before the election, even though the move has drawn accusations of hypocrisy from Democrats. Back in 2016, Senate Republicans refused to confirm Merrick Garland, a Supreme Court nominee named by Barack Obama, saying voters should get to choose the president first. Cwiklinski’s only criticism is that Republicans shouldn’t have taken that position in the first place.
“It would have been nice if the Republicans just said, ‘Look, we’re in charge of the Senate. We get to decide what happens in the Senate. And it’s politics. Election results have consequences,’” he said.
‘A total affront to the American voters’
While Cwiklinski believes Republicans should have never made that promise in 2016, Democrat Linda Bishop thinks they should live up to it now.
“Now, those same senators seem to think it’s fine to confirm a justice the week before the election,” she said. “And in fact, people are voting already. I think that’s completely hypocritical and a total affront to the American voters.”
Linda is retired, lives in Mars, Pennsylvania, and spends much of her time doing grassroots organizing. She’s also worried about how Barrett’s appointment could impact the Affordable Care Act, which provides health care coverage to millions of Americans. Barrett has criticized the Supreme Court ruling which upheld the law.
“To choose somebody that has such extreme and strong predispositions on that particular issue seems very unfair to the American people,” Bishop said.
Like many Democrats, both Linda and progressive voter Savannah Henry are worried about abortion rights. Henry’s a junior at the University of Pittsburgh where she’s president of the Planned Parenthood club. She said Barrett goes against a lot of what she stands for.
“It’s not just reproductive rights,” Henry said. “She’s anti-LGBT, she’s anti-immigration, she’s anti-gun control. A lot of the things I care about she’s really against.”
Henry supported Bernie Sanders in the primary and has not been enthusiastic about Joe Biden. But she says Ginsburg’s death has inspired her to be more active in the election. That’s even more true now that the President has nominated Barrett.
“She’s using all the doors that have been opened to her from feminists from the past,” Henry said of Trump's pick. “She’s going in to deny people the very things Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought so hard to provide to people.”
Republican Mary Henze believes the timing of Ginsburg’s death is no coincidence.
“Isn’t it odd that it happens right before the election and that it can be put through like this? I really believe that this is God’s saving grace into our judicial system.”
The Senate is on track to confirm Barrett by Election Day.