On the afternoon of September 19, a couple of dozen people gathered outside a Brooklyn apartment building, eyes raised to the top-floor fire escape. Music came from a huge arena-style speaker partially hidden by an American flag. Asked what was going on, a white-haired woman answered from behind her mask: “It’s for RBG.” News of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had come the night before. Now came this small and impromptu memorial service. The opening strains of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” filled the street: Ginsburg famously loved opera. Up and down the block, people leaned from their windows to listen. The aria rose to its soaring climax, then yielded seamlessly to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”—a perfect choice, for obvious reasons.
But the mood was solemn and weighted with anxiety: What would Ginsburg’s passing portend for the country, not just in the days ahead, but also in the decades to come? Ginsburg had expressed her wish to live long enough for a new president to choose her replacement on the court; millions of other Americans hoped, maybe prayed, for the same. It was not to be. So this president will get his say, and the Republican-led Senate is likely to ram through his choice before the election or in the lame-duck session to follow. It would cement a conservative majority for a generation or more. More immediately, a rushed vote could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the court and worsen our already embattled politics.
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