• The Star Staff

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death leaves a vacancy on US Supreme Court. Here’s why we should care

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

As the United States Supreme Court announced on Friday that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away due to metastatic pancreatic cancer at the age of 87, her death has set the stage for a titanic political fight as it could shape high court determinations on reproductive rights, voting rights, civil liberties, LGBTQIAP+ issues and other matters that could affect generations to come.

Even though Bader Ginsburg’s last wish before her passing was that her successor would be chosen by the nation’s next president, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged earlier to President Donald Trump a swift vote for the next Supreme Court nominee, after saying back in February 2016 that a “vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president” after refusing to allow the Senate to vote on Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland. Now, what implications does this determination have for Puerto Rico?

On one hand, former Puerto Rico Bar Association President Ana Irma Rivera Lassen told the Star that, for Puerto Rico, Bader Ginsburg’s death will have a great effect on Puerto Rico’s “colonial political-legal relationship and every other community where her opinion had an impact” as the next appointee might generate an “imbalance as her seat might be [filled] by a much more conservative person.”

The attorney said the pending determination might not only put voter distribution measures, reproductive rights and LGBTQIAP+ welfare in turmoil, but might also diminish the concepts of affirmative action for racial equality and against any other type of discrimination.

“Affirmative action recognizes that not everyone has equal access [to civil rights]. Everyone has the right to education, but not everyone has equal access to it; on many occasions, you would like to enroll in this school or that university, but they’re not available for you economically. Institutions could use affirmative action in order to provide equal access to everyone,” Rivera Lassen said. “Affirmative action is a very important tool [in the fight] for racial equality and every other variation of discrimination against vulnerable communities and identities. If the people who can use such a tool seem to be dwindling, I consider that this could get into controversies as we might see cases going to the U.S. Supreme Court so they rule against them.”

Meanwhile, Rolando Emmanuelli Jiménez called Bader Ginsburg’s death an “irreparable loss for rights in both the mainland and Puerto Rico” and told the Star that even though he doesn’t expect immediate changes in acquired rights as the U.S. Supreme Court can determine minimum requirements, Puerto Rican courts can establish additional prerogatives to enacted rights.

“The next appointee has to be [extremely] reluctant to consider eliminating the right to an abortion or recent rights enacted for the gay community, I don’t see that as I could see a civil war happening,” Emmanuelli said. “Where I do see an impact is that Puerto Rico is under a stormy political process with the imposition of the PROMESA [Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act] law; there are many cases that could arrive at the Supreme Court and obviously, with a[nother] conservative vote on Puerto Rican issues, I don’t anticipate anything positive. We have to see the trajectory of the nominee that the president might end up choosing, but the person who gets appointed has some big shoes to fill.”

Rivera Lassen urged citizens to stay alert on the Supreme Court nominees and demand transparency during the pending appointment. Meanwhile, Emmanuelli told the press that citizens should stay calm as he used Chief Justice John Roberts, a known conservative, as an example of a judge who has ruled in favor of progressive measures since he was appointed in 2005.

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