As America mourns the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice who has succumbed to cancer at the age of 87, the obituarists are already beginning to assess her legacy. And it is a formidable one.

The life of RBG, as she was almost universally known, was a testament to social mobility and all that is good and fair in the US. The daughter of an accountant from Brooklyn, she rose through hard work, vision, conviction, grit and determination to reach the pinnacle of her profession. She was a trailblazer for equal rights, not just for women, but for everyone. When she studied in Columbia Law School there were only three female students. Today about half of US law students and a third of federal judges are women.

What made RBG even more of a role model was her humanity and the ability to reach across the political aisle; her liberal convictions were the antithesis of former Chief Justice Antonin Scalia’s conservative values, but the two were personally close.

RBG’s death sends the composition of the US Supreme Court to the top of the agenda in this year’s presidential election campaign. Donald Trump will try to nominate a successor before the next US president — whether a re-elected Trump, or Democratic candidate Joe Biden — takes office in January. The Democrats will throw everything they have at any such nomination.

Chief Justice John Roberts told president Trump in 2018: “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges … the independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.” Nevertheless, in an increasingly polarized society, it is a cherished dream of both main US political parties to create a Supreme Court that they believe reflects their values, whether conservative or liberal.

In 2016, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell blocked confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, the Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, on the ground that it was an election year and the winner should nominate the new justice. He has now reversed that position.

Before RBG’s death, and after Trump appointed Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh as justices, the Supreme Court had a 5-4 conservative majority — but Chief Justice Roberts, a conservative, supported the liberal judges in rulings on immigration, health care and gay rights. A sixth conservative justice would deprive Roberts of his “swing vote” when the others were tied.

However, the new appointment must be confirmed by the Senate, and that is by no means clear cut. The Republicans have a majority of only three, and neither the current or former chairs of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley, may support ramming through a candidate before the end of January. Moreover, Republican Senators Susan Collins and Martha McSally face tough re-election races in Maine and Arizona, and may need to make concessions to their electorate. Fellow Republican Lisa Murkowsky has already come out against confirming a new justice before the election in November, and her colleague Mitt Romney is no friend of Trump.

However it all plays out in the end, the legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is that America is a place where everyone can fulfil their dreams if they work hard enough, and where fairness and equal rights can prevail. She stood for the ability to work alongside and even become friends with people who thought differently, while never compromising her own beliefs. She was the staunchest of advocates for the rule of law and an independent judiciary. These are important values in these times of division and strife. In the US and beyond, we would all do well to remember them.

  • Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macro-economist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources
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