US Election 2020: Why is the Supreme Court so important in US politics?

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The upcoming US election is one of the most fiercely contested in history and has been thrown in even more uncertain waters by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With only six weeks to go, her death has injected a heightened level of panic into the race and left both Republicans and Democrats reeling.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, US Supreme Court Judge and pioneering advocate of women’s rights, died on Friday, aged 87.

RGB sat at the top of the USA’s political and justice system – known as the Supreme Court – for 27 years.

Tributes to her have been widespread from both sides of the political spectrum – but many have been focussed on the long term effects of her death at such an important time in US history.

The legal stakes of her death are extremely high – and will change the balance of American politics for a generation.

What does the Supreme Court do?

The ultimate judicial power of the USA is vested in the Supreme Court and it decides on cases affecting the entire country.

The court has the final say on the most contencious and important rules in the land.

Also, the Supreme Court has been instrumental in passing abortion laws, gay marriage laws, healthcare acts and laws regarding equal rights.

Also, it has the final ruling on appeals for executions.

Cases are brought to the court if they are appealed from lower courts, and they only deal with issues that are usually of national interest.

RBG was originally appointed in 1993 by then-president Bill Clinton, and justices are appointed by a president when one either retires or dies.

Why is it so important?

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a difficult scenario for the Democrats.

RBG served on the court for 27 years – and her death throws off the balance of the court in favour of the Republicans if Mr Trump can nominate and appoint a new judge prior to the November election.

The court has nine judges – five of which are currently Republican, three which are Democrat, and one empty seat where RBG used to sit.

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Since the 2016 election, Mr Trump has appointed two new justices – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Prior to RBG’s death, the court had four Democrats and five Republican justices, so another justice appointed by Mr Trump will throw the balance between the two main parties considerably off.

New judges can only be appointed by the President following the death or retirement of a previous placeholder – but these are usually not appointed in an election year.

The Republicans blocked Barack Obama nominating and appointing a new judge in his last year of office in 2016 – something the Democrats are now trying to do to stop Mr Trump.

The US President tweeted on Saturday (September 19) he considered it an “obligation” to put forward a nominee, who if confirmed would tilt the balance of the court for a generation.

Mr Trump tweeted: “We [Republicans] were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!”

Joe Biden, who served as vice-president to Barack Obama, has rejected Mr Trump’s plan to appoint a new successor.

“Let me be clear: The voters should pick a President, and that President should select a successor to Justice Ginsburg,” he wrote on Twitter.

Who Mr Trump plans to nominate is not known yet, but is expected to be announced imminently.

If Mr Trump is successful in his bid, it means the Republicans will have full control of two of the arms of the USA’s system – the Supreme Court and the Senate.

The appointment would have an impact which could last a considerable amount of time and overturn some of the most important legislation in recent history.

Republicans have made it a priority to overturn Roe v Wade – a seminal abortion law which was one of the most divisive decisions ever seen in US court history.

This will also change the outlook significantly for the Affordable Care Act, immigration, voting rights and the role of money in US politics.

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