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Opinion: A grim future without Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in state Friday in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol.
(Shawn Thew / Associated Press)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

This is one of those times when it feels like we’re suddenly playing for all the marbles: a Supreme Court seat, endless climate catastrophes, a pandemic, an election in which the votes may or may not matter. We’ll get to those topics, each of which would deserve on its own to lead a newsletter, but I feel it’s important first to discuss the woman whose death set off a crisis and who deserves now to rest endlessly in peace and acclaim: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

On our op-ed, editorial and letters pages, much has been written about the profound consequences Ginsburg’s death at the age of 87 may have on the Supreme Court and on any American who fought for a right or liberty that was acknowledged in the last generation. Much less has been written to eulogize the human being on whose shoulders a succession of historical accidents and events placed a heavy burden. For that, the op-ed page turned to two of Ginburg’s former clerks, Miriam Seifter and Robert Yablon, a married couple who met at the Supreme Court and whose wedding was officiated by the justice.

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From their piece a portrait emerges of a woman every bit as caring, decent and hardworking as her legal writings suggest. The relationship between Ginsburg and her husband, Marty, a successful attorney in his own right, abounded with love and mutual respect, according to the two former clerks: “With marriage, as with everything else, the justice set a high bar. She tirelessly championed righteous causes and lofty ideals, and also devoted herself to the family she adored. She inspired millions of people she never met and also enriched the lives of those of us who were lucky enough to know her.”

President Trump wants to put Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court. She’s qualified, says The Times editorial board, but she does not deserve confirmation: “We continue to believe that the vacancy created by Ginsburg’s death so close to the Nov. 3 election shouldn’t be filled until after the inauguration of the winner of that election, whether it is Trump or Democratic nominee Joe Biden.” In a separate piece, columnist Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney, warns that confirming Barrett would shove the court far to the right and threaten a “catastrophe for Americans whose liberties will be on the chopping block.”

A president shouldn’t be able to imperil democracy, and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) believes the package of reforms he’s proposing in Congress could discourage or prevent the abuses perpetrated by Trump. Broadly speaking, Schiff wants to do three things: limit the president’s pardon power and create an enforcement mechanism for the Constitution’s emoluments clause; enhance the power of Congress to perform oversight of the executive branch; and address interference in U.S. elections by requiring presidential campaigns to inform the FBI of suspicious foreign activity. L.A. Times

Good riddance to gas-powered cars in California. Increasingly intense wildfires and punishing droughts haven’t been enough to convince drivers in the most environmentally woke state to dump internal combustion engines, so Gov. Gavin Newsom is right to nudge them with his executive order requiring all new cars sold in California to be zero-emission by 2035. Without such a dramatic shift, says The Times editorial board, California cannot meet its clean-air or climate-change targets. L.A. Times

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The Mt. Wilson Observatory was saved from the Bobcat fire. It won’t always be so lucky. Regular readers of this newsletter might have picked up on the fact that I’m something of a local mountain wanderer (mostly as a trail runner, sometimes as a father on an excursion with my children), so like countless other Angelenos, I spent much of early September fixated on the San Gabriel Mountains as the Bobcat fire migrated up the slopes of Mt. Wilson. Firefighters saved the famed Mt. Wilson Observatory this time, and for that we owe them our endless gratitude, but my experience exploring the ruins of past human attempts to colonize our local mountain range leads me to a grim conclusion: It’s only a matter of time before the observatory burns. L.A. Times

Early voting begins in California next month, so the editorial board is publishing its endorsements early. This week, the board urged “yes” votes on Proposition 15 (which would create separate tax rules for commercial and residential property) and Proposition 18 (which would extend some voting rights to some 17-year-olds) and a “no” vote on Proposition 22 (which would classify Uber and Lyft drivers as independent contractors). Among other recent endorsements, The Times editorial board has announced its support for Joe Biden for president and David Ryu and Mark Ridley-Thomas for L.A. City Council. You’ll find our complete list of recommendations here.

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.

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