Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was with her family when she died Friday evening at her home in Washington; her son, Jim, lives in Chicago.
He founded Cedille Records, the nationally known classical music label famous for promoting composers and musicians from Chicago.
Jim and his sister, Jane — 10 years older — are graduates of the University of Chicago. Jane, a Columbia University Law professor, received her undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago and never set down roots here.
Jim, after he graduated, went on to enroll in the University of Chicago’s law school, but that didn’t last. Growing up listening to classical music at home, Jim decided to take a different path. He dropped his legal studies to launch the Andersonville-based Cedille in 1989.
I met Jim through politics, not music. He’s been active in Democratic progressive politics in the area — especially on the North Side — for years.
On Nov. 14, 2014, I was at a benefit for Moment Magazine, the independent Jewish publication based in Washington, and Ginsburg was among the guests. When we chatted — I told her I was with the Chicago Sun-Times — she noted her son lived in Chicago and was producing classical music. I know him, I told her, and we started to talk about his label. She went on to rave about Rachel Barton Pine, the violinist from Chicago and one of Cedille’s artists.
In 2018, Cedille released “Notorious RBG in Song,” a nine-song “portrait” about the life of the justice by singer and composer Patrice Michaels — Jim’s wife and Ginsburg’s daughter-in-law.
Since Ginsburg’s death, people have been dropping off flowers at Cedille, 1205 W. Balmoral Ave. A sign on the door says, “Thank you to those who are leaving flowers in honor of Justice Ginsburg, we are checking the office daily to take care of them.”
Jim said in a Facebook message, “My thanks to all who have posted in response to my Mom’s passing (as well as to those who have sent their sentiments via Messenger, text, email, etc.). I greatly appreciate your kind words and good wishes. It’s wonderful to know how much she inspired so many (not least of all me!).”
Sen. Mitch McConnell’s naked ploys: Remember Merrick Garland
Filling the Ginsburg slot is now a central issue in the Trump/Biden contest — and plays to President Donald Trump’s advantage if locking in an anti-abortion justice energizes his base vote and distracts from his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden and Senate Democrats are scrambling to mount a drive to sidetrack Senate Republicans from jamming through a nominee as Americans in several states started last week to cast early general election ballots.
In Illinois, early voting kicks off Thursday.
Trump said he will name a nominee — who will be a woman — this week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who controls what gets voted on, started pushing for a swift confirmation hours after Ginsburg’s death was announced.
McConnell, who is up reelection in November, is cynically making up rules as he goes along, intent to win at any cost.
On Feb. 14, 2016, the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was announced. A few hours later, McConnell said in a statement, “This vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president” in order to give the American people a “voice” in the selection. The election was nine months away. President Barack Obama had 11 months left to his term.
Obama nominated Merrick Garland, the chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to fill the Scalia vacancy. Garland, raised in Lincolnwood, graduated Niles West High School in Skokie in 1970. McConnell blocked Garland from even getting a hearing.
Obama left office with the seat unfilled.
McConnell’s scheme handed Trump his first Supreme Court pick, Justice Neil Gorsuch.
After Ginsburg’s death, Obama said in a statement, “Four and a half years ago, when Republicans refused to hold a hearing or an up-or-down vote on Merrick Garland, they invented the principle that the Senate shouldn’t fill an open seat on the Supreme Court before a new president was sworn in.
“A basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what’s convenient or advantageous in the moment. The rule of law, the legitimacy of our courts, the fundamental workings of our democracy all depend on that basic principle. As votes are already being cast in this election, Republican Senators are now called to apply that standard.”
On Sunday, Biden, Obama’s vice president, in a very personal appeal, implored Senate Republicans to resist Trump and McConnell.
“We need to de-escalate, not escalate,” Biden said. “So I appeal to those few Senate Republicans, the handful who really will decide what happens: Please, follow your conscience. Don’t vote to confirm anyone nominated under the circumstances President Trump and Senator McConnell have created. Don’t go there.”
Biden warned, “If we go down this path” it will cause “irreversible damage. The infection this president has unleashed on our democracy can be fatal. Enough. Enough. Enough. We must come together as a nation.”
Senate scenarios: Handful of GOP senators who may balk at power play
Over the weekend, two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine — in a very tough reelection race — and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said the Senate should not vote on a nominee before the November election. That is scenario one — confirming a nominee in an unheard of number of weeks, not the usual months.
If a few senators block a pre-election vote, there is scenario two — what to do in the lame duck session following the election.
What if Democrats win control of the Senate? What if Biden wins? Would some Republicans decide to hold off on a vote? At present, there are 53 Senate Republicans. Vice President Mike Pence could vote to break a 50-50 tie.
Collins and Murkowski are the two most obvious senators to watch.
“Given the proximity of the presidential election, however, I do not believe that the Senate should vote on the nominee prior to the election,” Collins said in a Saturday statement — silent on a lame duck session. Her decision may hinge on whether or not she is reelected. She was the key vote for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
After that, add Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the lone Republican who voted on one of the articles of impeachment against Trump; Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, also in a tough reelection contest and two Senate veterans who are retiring, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas.
And then there is this wrinkle: If Democrat Mark Kelly beats Republican Sen. Martha McSally in Arizona, he can take his seat as early as the end of November during the lame duck session — because it’s a special election to fill the late Sen. John McCain’s term.