When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—or as she was known fondly to many young people, the Notorious RBG—passed away in September, a vacancy opened up on our country’s highest court. A feminist icon and trailblazer for equality, Justice Ginsburg worked throughout her career to ensure fairness and equity under the law. Given that Supreme Court nominees are appointed for life, the person chosen to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat will have an outsized impact on young Americans, who will live with the consequences of the new Justice’s decisions for decades.
Senate Republicans refused to give President Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee a vote for most of a year under the pretense that it was too close to an election. But the same Republicans are now rushing to confirm Donald Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, who has voiced firm opposition to the Affordable Care Act, abortion rights, and contraceptive access, in less than a month. Just yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance her nomination—and on Monday, the full Senate will have the chance to vote for or against her confirmation. With so much at stake and the presidential election already underway, it is critical that the American people get the opportunity to make their voices heard and have their votes respected before the Senate votes on a nominee.
The Supreme Court decides cases on many different topics that are relevant to young Americans—from immigration to environmental protection to gun violence—however, there is perhaps no more urgent issue at stake than health care. Exactly one week after the election, the Court will take up President Trump’s lawsuit to end the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which Trump is determined to do in order to lower taxes for his wealthiest donors. If the Senate allows another Trump-appointed Justice to join the Court, more than 20 million Americans could lose their health coverage in the middle of a pandemic that has killed 200,000 Americans, infected over 7 million, and caused over 30 million to seek unemployment assistance.
Put simply: the loss of the ACA would be an abject disaster for young people. Before the groundbreaking legislation was passed, young people had the highest uninsured rate of any other age group, with young people of color disproportionately likely to be uninsured. Insurance plans—especially student health plans—could decide not to cover people with pre-existing conditions or make the cost so prohibitive for those with pre-existing conditions that young people would not be able to afford care. Women could be charged more for the same coverage as men. Young people—including me—were often kicked off their parents plans while still in college or working early career jobs that didn’t offer health benefits.
After the passage of the ACA, the uninsured rate for young people was cut in half. Insurance companies could no longer discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, including those who require mental health care, which young people disproportionately rely on. Young people can stay on their parents’ plans until they are 26 years old, when many have finished school and are trying to begin their careers. The ACA also guarantees access to no-cost birth control for most people, making it easier and more affordable for young people to make decisions about their health, their bodies, and their futures. If this protection was repealed in the middle of a pandemic and economic crisis, it would be a catastrophe.
Even aside from the threats to the ACA, future decisions made by the Supreme Court will affect young people’s access to health care for years to come. Reproductive health care—access to abortion care, birth control, and maternity care—are all essential elements of health care for young people. But the reproductive rights of young people are in grave danger if Trump is able to install another justice on the Supreme Court. Although the promise of Roe v. Wade has yet to be fully realized in this country—particularly for low-income people, people living in rural areas, and people of color—losing the precedent it sets or allowing abortion rights to continue to be eroded would put countless lives and livelihoods at risk. Barrett has actively called for just that.
To protect our futures, our health, and our families, it is imperative that Justice Ginsburg’s seat remain open until after the inauguration of the next president. Before she died, Justice Ginsburg dictated a final statement to her granddaughter, Clara Spera: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Young Americans, who have long been inspired by Justice Ginsburg’s courageous spirit of dissent, will fight to make her final wish come true—and in so doing, protect her legacy and our own futures.