An Empty Seat and Broken Hearts in Queens: Replacing RBG

Ruth Badar Ginsburg By Supreme Court of the United States – Supreme Court of the United States (Source 2), Public Domain,

For the last two years, Diana Basmajian has kept up the odd hobby of producing small crocheted dolls in the likeness of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Basmajian, who lives in Astoria, said that though she began crocheting the dolls in 2018, she has admired Ginsburg since 1993, shortly after she graduated high school. She’s understood the importance of having women on the Supreme Court since she was much younger.

“I was in second grade when Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed, and my teacher made sure that we all knew how important that it was that a woman was appointed for the first time,” Basmajian said. “So when RBG was appointed by Clinton in ‘93, I immediately recognized the significance of that as a young woman.”

Despite Ginsburg’s iconic connections to the borough of Brooklyn, Basmajian and other residents and elected officials in Queens have now found themselves remembering the life of the late-justice, while also trying to make sense of the looming fight to pick her successor.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump nominated U.S. Appeals Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court, tipping off what many believe will be an extremely contentious nomination fight only 35 days before a presidential election.

The nomination of Barrett so close to an election has drawn comparisons to a similar fight in 2016 in which President Barack Obama attempted unsuccessfully to fill the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia. 

“There is something sickening to me about the vitriol and the language being used,” Basmajian said. “The hypocrisy of saying it’s okay to nominate a justice, when it was not okay when Merrick Garland was nominated is very troubling to me.”

At a press conference last week in front of James Madison High School in Brooklyn, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–Astoria, College Point, Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside) blasted the plan to nominate a replacement so close to an election.

“With an early appointment all of our rights – the rights that so many people died for – voting rights, reproductive rights, healthcare rights – all of those rights, are at risk with this appointment,” Ocasio Cortez said. “We need to make sure that we mobilize on an unprecedented scale to make sure that this vacancy is reserved to the next president.”

Bart Haggerty, a district leader with the Queens County Republican Party for Assembly District 28, believes the situation is more nuanced, however, and does not see a possible nomination as hypocritical.

“Historically speaking when the president and the United States Senate are from opposite parties, they did not confirm, or failed to act upon the nominee during an election year. That’s politics,” Haggerty said.

A resident of Forest Hills, Haggarty says that he supports the president’s decision to nominate Barrett, though he recognizes Ginsburg as a “champion” for women’s rights who leaves behind a strong legacy on the court.

An expert on the federal judiciary, Frank Deal, who is a professor at the CUNY Law School in Long Island City questions the forgoing logic about the Senate and the president needing to be in the same party for a confirmation to occur this close to an election.

“When [Mitch McConnell] first made that move in 2016 I was sort of shocked by it, but it’s just compounded by the fact that he’s now not going to respect his own precedent,” Deale said. “Having set that ridiculous precedent, you would sort of think that since this is much closer to the election than we had in 2016, it would be easier to do in this situation, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to play out that way.”

Regardless of the precedent set in 2016, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–KY) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, have set a plan to vote on a nominee by late October, just days before the election.

Though Barrett has only spent a couple years as a federal judge, she has built a solid conservative record on issues of religious freedom, and on healthcare, which worries Basmajian, who receives healthcare through the Affordable Care Act.

“She has had some strong stances against Obamacare from what I’ve read, there was a question about some anti-immigration stances she took,” Basmajian said. “On top of that, some of my best friends, some of the closest friends are gay. It would absolutely horrify me if they lost their right to marry.”