SC vacancy upends race in key battlegrounds | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 24, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:09 AM, September 24, 2020

US Election 2020

SC vacancy upends race in key battlegrounds

Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death has roiled the US presidential race, with the battle over her replacement looming large in swing states likely to determine the course of an election just six weeks from Tuesday. 

Many Republicans see her passing as a golden if controversial opportunity for President Donald Trump to pick another conservative -- his third -- for a lifelong spot on the nine-member bench.

Michelle Burns, a stay-at-home mother of six in the small city of Monroe, in southern Michigan, said "it's God's will" that Trump fill the court vacancy before the vote.

"My own belief is that this was a divine intervention," the 46-year-old told AFP Monday outside her home that features over-the-top Halloween decorations complete with an inflatable Trump.

"What's the coincidence of it happening seven weeks before the election?"

Trump's battle with Democrat Joe Biden is on a razor's edge, with the Ginsburg replacement the latest in a series of bitterly divisive election issues: Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the resulting economic downturn, and tensions over racial injustice.

Whether the explosive Ginsburg issue fundamentally alters the race is not yet known.

But grassroots Democrats hope Trump nominating a replacement would be met with a backlash that tilts the presidential contest their way in critical Industrial Belt states like Michigan and Ohio.

"It's really life or death at this point," said 21-year-old college student Alexa Cooley, as she and her sister left a Democratic Party office in Monroe with campaign yard signs under their arms.

While she acknowledges the court seat battle is a rallying point for pro-life voters like Burns, Cooley sees a five-alarm fire that will "motivate Democrats" to vote for Biden on November 3.

Monroe County was one of several in Michigan that voted twice for Barack Obama but flipped to Trump, helping him narrowly carry the state and propel him to a 2016 shock win.

Pocock is Republican and comes from a pro-life family, so there is pressure to fall in line and back the president.

But he believes Trump has done "questionable things in office" and has badly mishandled the coronavirus, and so Pocock's vote, he said, is going to Biden, despite Pocock's own opposition to abortion.

Trump has announced he will nominate a new justice on Saturday and the Senate's Republican leader said to expect a confirmation vote.

The move so close to an election has infuriated Democrats. But in neighboring northwestern Ohio, a closely watched bellwether state won by Trump in 2016, supporters streamed into Trump's Monday open-air rally eager for the president to fulfill his duty.

Ginsburg's death has energized voters from both sides of the political divide but 

her demise can spell bad news for Democrats if a legal battle over the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election reaches the high court, as it did in 2000.

If Trump is able to install a conservative replacement in time, the new justice could help resolve any dispute in favor of the president - an outcome that would deepen the country's partisan divide and threaten the court's reputation as an independent arbiter, some legal experts said.

Before Ginsburg's death, the court had a 5-4 conservative majority, so even if her seat were to remain vacant, Democrats would need two conservative votes to avoid losing or a 4-4 tie in any post-election case.

The 2020 campaign has already seen more election-related lawsuits than any other in recent memory, said Dale Ho, who runs the voting rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union. Many of the cases are focused on whether to expand voting options amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has prompted millions of Americans to request mail-in ballots. Trump has spent months asserting without evidence that the election will be "rigged" due to mail-in voting, and Biden has said he believes Trump will inevitably dispute the results.

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