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In the home stretch of the US presidential election, a seismic event has occurred – long-serving Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, aged 87. As Non-Resident Senior Fellow Bruce Wolpe wrote in the Canberra Times, “she was a woman of valour.” 

In an about-face from 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has moved from his pledge to “let the American people decide” a Supreme Court vacancy in the final year of a president's term, to promising, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.” Not quite an “October Surprise,” but as United States Studies Centre CEO Professor Simon Jackman explained on Channel 10, this turn of events allows the Trump campaign to change the narrative away from COVID-19. 

Nominations to the Supreme Court are always contentious in an era of polarisation in Washington. Replacing a liberal justice with a conservative will substantially change the ideological composition of the Supreme Court, in the shadow of a fiercely contested presidential election. The nomination and confirmation battle will see issues such as abortion and the Affordable Care Act come rushing back to centre stage in the election campaign. Moreover, there is the distinct prospect that the Supreme Court will be called upon to rule on some of the many election-related cases working their way through the courts, perhaps in a way that could decide the election as in 2000.

To learn more about the implications of this vacancy and how the Supreme Court may decide this election, make sure to tune in to tomorrow’s webinar Law, the courts and free and fair elections in the United States