Sunday, September 20, 2020
People in public life tend to fall into one of two broad categories – those motivated by principle, and those motivated by power.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday night at the age of 87, exemplified the first.
When he nominated her in 1993, Bill Clinton called her “the Thurgood Marshall of gender-equality law”, comparing her advocacy and lower-court rulings in pursuit of equal rights for women to the work of the great jurist who advanced the cause of equal rights for Black people. Ginsburg persuaded the supreme court that the 14th amendment’s guarantee of equal protection applied not only to racial discrimination but to sex discrimination as well.
For Ginsburg, principle was everything – not only equal rights, but also the integrity of democracy. Always concerned about the consequences of her actions for the system as a whole, she advised young people “to fight for the things you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you”.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, exemplifies the second category. He couldn’t care less about principle. He is motivated entirely by the pursuit of power.
McConnell refused to allow the Senate to vote on Barack Obama’s nominee to the supreme court, Merrick Garland, in February 2016 – almost a year before the end of Obama’s second term – on the dubious grounds that the “vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president”.
McConnell’s move was a pure power grab. No Senate leader had ever before asserted the right to block a vote on a president’s nominee to the supreme court.
McConnell’s “principle” of waiting for a new president disappeared on Friday evening, after Ginsburg’s death was announced.
Just weeks before one of the most consequential presidential elections in American history, when absentee voting has already begun in many states (and will start in McConnell’s own state of Kentucky in 25 days), McConnell announced: “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”
This is, after all, the same Mitch McConnell who, soon after Trump was elected, ended the age-old requirement that supreme court nominees receive 60 votes to end debate and allow for a confirmation vote, and then, days later, pushed through Trump’s first nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Ginsburg and McConnell represent the opposite poles of public service today. The distinction doesn’t depend on whether someone is a jurist or legislator – I’ve known many lawmakers who cared more about principle than power, such as the late congressman John Lewis. It depends on values.
Ginsburg refused to play power politics. As she passed her 80th birthday, near the start of Obama’s second term, she dismissed calls for her to retire in order to give Obama plenty of time to name her replacement, saying she planned to stay “as long as I can do the job full steam”, adding: “There will be a president after this one, and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president.”
She hoped others would also live by principle, including McConnell and Trump. Just days before her death she said: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Her wish will not be honored.
If McConnell cannot muster the Senate votes needed to confirm Trump’s nominee before the election, he’ll probably try to fill the vacancy in the lame-duck session after the election. He’s that shameless.
Not even with Joe Biden president and control over both the House and Senate can Democrats do anything about this – except, perhaps, by playing power politics themselves: expanding the size of the court or restructuring it so justices on any given case are drawn from a pool of appellate judges.
The deeper question is which will prevail in public life: McConnell’s power politics or Ginsburg’s dedication to principle?
The problem for America, as for many other democracies at this point in history, is this is not an even match. Those who fight for power will bend or break rules to give themselves every advantage. Those who fight for principle are at an inherent disadvantage because bending or breaking rules undermines the very ideals they seek to uphold.
Over time, the unbridled pursuit of power wears down democratic institutions, erodes public trust and breeds the sort of cynicism that invites despotism.
The only bulwark is a public that holds power accountable – demanding stronger guardrails against its abuses, and voting power-mongers out of office.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg often referred to Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous quote, that “the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people”. Indeed.
Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good. His new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now. He is a columnist for Guardian US“
“When storms knocked the power out in my mom’s senior apartment building for the third time in 24 hours, I expected her to be in a panic — no air conditioning, stove or lights. Instead, her 84-year-old self sounded exuberant as she called from a friend’s cellphone to let me know she was managing fine. There was a lot of laughing and chatter in the background as she gathered with acquaintances, pooling flashlights and candles like bold adventurers.
Stories abound of many older Americans handling the pandemic with the kind of resilience and aplomb my mother showed in the storm emergency. My father’s cultural calendar far exceeds my own with Zoom lectures ranging from the cast of the Netflix miniseries “Unorthodox” to human rights activist Natan Sharansky, which he views in between Silver Sneakers exercise classes also streamed in from various sites to the comfort of his living room.
Unlike teenagers and those in their 20s who have grown up with the immediate gratification of social media “likes,” those 65 and older are more seasoned at waiting and can tolerate patience in a way that is hard for many of the rest of us, who were done with this pandemic months ago.
That many individuals in their 60s and beyond are coping well in these uncertain times corroborates much of the research I did with that demographic for my book, “Gray Matters: Finding Meaning in the Stories of Later Life.”
The surveys with 25 open-ended questions on aging were distributed at social and residential facilities that cater to those 65 and older and shared electronically with survey participants’ friends and family members nationwide to capture a range of elders’ experiences. Of the over 200 people who completed the surveys, nearly every one described their “general mood most days” in very upbeat terms despite also acknowledging health concerns, caretaking responsibilities and some loneliness.
Research also has noted that the majority of people worldwide become happier as they age, perhaps because they accept inevitable changes that occur over time and develop appreciation for the good that remains in their lives.
When Patrick Klaiber, a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia, and colleagues collected daily surveys from people ages 18 to 91 during the pandemic, they found that older generations reported handling the stress of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, more effectively than those who are younger.
Other reports reveal similar data, including a study by the investment company Edward Jones and the think tank Age Wave looking at 9,000 people across five generations. The older participants in the study reported the highest percentages of coping “very well” with covid-19.
This disparity may be partly explained by seniors often having fewer work-family conflicts than those with younger children. But others recognize that living in one’s later years gives perspective that difficult times will pass eventually, and that there is experience to draw upon to help remain resilient during hardship and challenges.
My Uncle Lou, for example, who just turned 90, describes his surviving the Korean War at 22 to be a “defining moment” that taught him to be “thankful” to be alive; he still remembers his four brothers serving in World War II, including one who was taken as a prisoner of war. Lou has been spending time during the pandemic listening to music and working on his autobiography. He commented, “We are handling [the pandemic] with a positive attitude.”
To point out that many older people are weathering this pandemic is not to minimize the serious problems that are affecting them. More than 48,000 nursing home residents have died of covid-19, and Blacks and other people of color have been disproportionately affected. Countless nursing homes still do not have sufficient testing and the personal protective equipment needed to guarantee the safety of employees and residents.
Isolation for those in senior-care facilities has been heightened during the pandemic as well with strict limits on visits with family members and overall fear of exposure to the virus leading to stringent self-policing by some residents who are afraid to come into contact with asymptomatic carriers.
But amid these worrisome trends, positive developments have emerged.
Quarantining during the pandemic has made people experience what many older adults go through every day, spending significant time at home without a set schedule providing structure to days and a certain tempo. With everyone having less social interaction outside of the house when quarantined, families spent more time using technology to connect with relatives.
For those seniors without available family members, organizations have developed innovative projects to expand older adults’ social interaction. The nonprofit group TimeSlips initiated Milwaukee Tele-Stories, for example, pairing local artists with 10 “underconnected” elders for weekly conversation and creative engagement that will end with artists making a “legacy gift” for each.
TimeSlips founder and chief executive Anne Basting also started a “creative care” postcard project with care facilities that have requested personal, uplifting mail be sent to their residents. Basting says that “FaceTime calls” can be great but a postcard can be a “little gasp of joy again and again. All day long.”
As we all sail into the unknown, there is some emerging data that being exposed to “age diversity” contributes to longevity. I think of that now more than ever when I arrive at the Y pool for water tai chi with an intergenerational group that ranges from 15 to 90. One of our movements is called “accepting with grace.” Many older people there and elsewhere already have mastered this timeless ideal.
Ellyn Lem is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Waukesha.”
“The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg injects fresh uncertainty into the future of the Affordable Care Act, as the Supreme Court prepares to consider anew the constitutionality of the law that has reshaped the United States’ health-care system in the past decade.
As the senior member of the court’s liberal bloc, Ginsburg was a reliable vote to uphold the ACA in the past and had been expected to do so when the high court reviews the law a third time in its coming term. The sudden shift in the court’s composition provides the latest lawsuit seeking to get rid of the health-care law a greater opportunity, though not a certain victory, while mobilizing Democratic and swing voters focused on the issue in the upcoming elections, according to legal scholars and political analysts.
“Ginsburg’s death is the nightmare scenario for the Affordable Care Act,” said Nicholas Bagley, a University of Michigan law professor who supports the law. “If the suit had a trivial chance of success yesterday, it has a new lease on life.”
Friday night’s announcement that the justice had died of cancer is the latest twist along an uncommonly tortuous path for a major piece of social legislation. The ACA has been in peril in the courts and from President Trump and congressional Republicans since it was adopted by a Democratic president in 2010, becoming Barack Obama’s main domestic policy achievement. The newest legal challengecomes as polls were showing health care was a dominant issue in the November elections, even before the coronavirus pandemic removed millions of Americans’ jobs and health insurance and elevated people’s worries about whether they would have coverage if they got sick.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Nov. 10, a week after Election Day, in an ACA case with sharp partisan contours. It is based on a lawsuit that was initiated by a coalition of Republican state attorneys general and is supported by Trump’s Justice Department. Another coalition of mostly Democratic attorneys general is trying to uphold the law.
The case turns on different legal arguments than those from when the Supreme Court upheld the ACA in 2012 and 2015. The current case, California v. Texas, contends that the statute is unconstitutional because a 2017 change in federal tax law eliminated tax penalties for Americans who violate a requirement in the law that most people carry health coverage. The suit contends that if that part of the ACA is invalid, so is the rest.
The court’s eventual decision has stakes for the health-care system and Americans’ lives far beyond the insurance requirement, which has been moot since 2019. The most popular aspect of the law protects people with preexisting medical conditions from being frozen out of health insurance or charged higher rates. Democrats used this issue successfully in the 2018 midterm elections to win control of the House, and former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has started running ads on this theme in the most competitive states.
Other aspects of the law include the expansion of Medicaid in 38 states and D.C.; insurance marketplaces created for people without access to affordable health benefits through a job; and federal subsidies for nearly 9 in 10 who buy health plans through those marketplaces. The law also fills in gaps in Medicare drug coverage, defines a set of essential health benefits that insurers must cover, requires some restaurants to list calories of menu items and compels many employers to create private spaces for mothers to nurse babies.
“In important respects, the ACA has become part of the basic plumbing of the U.S. health-care system,” Bagley said. “Ripping it out at this point would create enormous problems.”
Legal scholars across the ideological spectrum have regarded the case the Supreme Court plans to hear in November as legally weak. Still, it prompted a Texas district judge to invalidate the entire law in late 2018, though it remains in place during appeals. The New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit agreed late last year the insurance requirement is unconstitutional but sent back to the lower judge the question of whether the rest of the law could remain — or in legal parlance, could be “severed.”
On Saturday, scholars said they regarded the law’s survival chances as dampened with Ginsburg’s death. Assuming the court’s remaining three liberals vote to uphold it, they now would need to find two justices to join them — one more than if the late justice were alive to participate, said Timothy S. Jost, a retired law professor at Washington and Lee University.
Still, both Jost and Bagley noted that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the Supreme Court’s newest member nominated by Trump, Brett M. Kavanaugh, have written recent opinions in cases involving other issues, reasoning that parts of laws could be invalidated while leaving the rest in place — a position that could preserve the other parts of the ACA even if the court rules the insurance requirement no longer being enforced as unconstitutional.
An anti-ACA law professor at Case Western Reserve University, Jonathan Adler, predicted that there are not more than four justices likely to go beyond the idea that the insurance mandate is invalid to striking down the entire statute. In that case, Ginsburg’s presence, had she lived, would not make a difference in preventing the whole law from being overturned.
The scholars said the outcome of the case is unlikely to be affected by whether the Senate confirms a successor to the late justice this year. If the court ended up in a 4-to-4 tie, that would preserve the lower court’s ruling striking down the insurance mandate, as would a 6-to-3 split reflecting a newly strengthened conservative majority of justices.
Unless a new justice is confirmed by early November, he or she would be unlikely to participate in the case, because the court’s practice is for justices to take part in decisions only when they have attended the oral arguments. Occasionally, the court has rescheduled oral arguments when it has not had its full complement of nine justices.
Assessing the political implications of Ginsburg’s death in light of the pending ACA challenge, Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster and political consultant, said voters opposed to the law are more likely to be motivated by the opportunity for Trump to choose a Supreme Court nominee with conservative views on social issues, such as abortion, than on health care.
Celinda Lake, a Democratic consultant who is a Biden campaign pollster, said polling for other clients this year suggests that Ginsburg’s death could prove useful to Democratic candidates up and down the ballot if voters perceive the law to be in jeopardy. Lake said polls suggest that Democratic voters had been concerned about whether candidates supported the health-care law but had not regarded it as in danger.
“It totally refocuses the debate,” Lake said, adding that polls show voters remain especially focused on preserving insurance protections for preexisting conditions, with many Americans fearing this year that they could be responsible for bills if they got cancer or were infected with the novel coronavirus.
Suburban women and older Americans, in particular, hold such views — both important constituencies in the November elections, she said. Women who are Independents, especially in rural areas, share these concerns, even though they may not be aligned with Democrats on expanding government-financed health care or other more liberal health-care issues, Lake said. “It gets us back to terrain that produces the biggest advantage for us,” she said of Democratic candidates.
“The fight over the confirmation of Judge Garland in 2016 set the tone for an even more brutal battle over who should succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
WASHINGTON — On a Saturday evening in February 2016, just hours after Justice Antonin Scalia died during a hunting trip, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, interrupted a Caribbean vacation to draw a line in the sand.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” he said. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
At that very moment, Mr. McConnell changed the course of the court and every future confirmation battle to come. By the time President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick B. Garland — a mild-mannered jurist with impeccable credentials, a moderate record and fans across the ideological spectrum — the Washington apparatus that gears up around Supreme Court nominations no longer felt quite the same.
What followed is already setting the tone for an even more brutal battle over who should succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday at 87.
Democrats knew going into the battle over Judge Garland that the fight would not only be about the judge and his record, but about the very process of “advice and consent” laid out for senators in the Constitution. Republicans split on whether they should even take the customary introductory meetings with the nominee; Mr. McConnell refused to do so, though two endangered Republicans, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, said they would. (Both later lost their bids for re-election.)
Even Mr. Obama sounded tentative, knowing the White House had unusual hurdles to jump.
“I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up-or-down vote,” Mr. Obama said then. “If you don’t, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair.”
Republicans refused even to grant Judge Garland a hearing, spurning Mr. Obama’s request and infuriating Democrats and especially the progressive left, which is now demanding far-reaching measures — including expanding the size of the Supreme Court and adding Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., as states — should Democrats retake control of the Senate in the November elections.
“The ghost of Merrick Garland hangs very heavily over the Senate right now,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to Harry Reid, the Democratic leader of the Senate during the Garland confirmation fight. “Everything that Democrats do they are going to base in part on Senator McConnell’s clear abuse of the process when they denied that man a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
Mr. McConnell’s move was “the opening act,” said Nan Aron, the president of the liberal advocacy group Alliance for Justice, in his bid to stock the federal judiciary with conservatives. After President Trump nominated Judge Neil M. Gorsuch to fill the Scalia vacancy, Mr. McConnell jammed through a rule change allowing Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed with a simple majority, instead of 60. (Democrats had previously done the same for lower court nominees.)
That change — known in Senate parlance as “the nuclear option” — eased the path for the confirmation of both Justice Gorsuch, 419 days after Justice Scalia died, and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh last year. And it now leaves Democrats with scant ammunition to fight a Trump nominee to fill the Ginsburg seat. With Republicans holding a 53-to-47 Senate majority, four of them would have to defect in order to block confirmation.
Democrats, including Mr. Obama, now say Mr. McConnell must adhere to the principle he invented, that the Senate should not fill an open seat in an election year before a new president is sworn in. But Mr. McConnell is determined to secure a conservative majority on the court regardless of his own treatment of Judge Garland and has dug in.
In selecting Judge Garland, then 63, Mr. Obama took a calculated risk. The judge was a well-known figure in Washington legal circles, a Harvard-educated lawyer who earlier in his career had left corporate law and taken a 50 percent pay cut to become a federal prosecutor. He had made a name for himself prosecuting and winning the conviction of Timothy McVeigh, who had bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
As the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — sometimes called “the little Supreme Court” — Judge Garland had drawn praise from members of both parties. But he was older, white and moderate, and his nomination did little to energize the more liberal flank of the Democratic base.
Judge Garland had twice made it onto Mr. Obama’s short list, but the president chose Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan instead. He would keep Judge Garland in reserve as a sort of “break glass in case of emergency” candidate.
But by the time the emergency arose, with the death of Justice Scalia on Feb. 13, 2016, the political landscape had shifted. It would be three months before Mr. Trump secured the Republican nomination for president, but he seemed well on his way.
Shortly after Mr. Obama announced Judge Garland’s nomination, Mr. McConnell appeared on the Senate floor to say it was dead on arrival. He later called the judge to tell him much the same thing.
“The American people may well elect a president who decides to nominate Judge Garland for Senate consideration,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor. “The next president may also nominate someone very different. Either way, our view is this: Give the people a voice in the filling of this vacancy.”
Mr. McConnell himself was taking a gamble. Had Hillary Clinton, who was then running to succeed Mr. Obama, won the presidency — as many Democrats and Mr. Trump himself expected — she would have been unlikely to choose a nominee like Judge Garland, whose judicial record, particularly on cases involving national security and campaign finance, was not always pleasing to liberals.
Judge Garland visited the senators who would see him, mostly Democrats, and he completed the detailed questionnaire that nominees provide to the Judiciary Committee before confirmation hearings. But the waiting was agonizing for him, and over time, it became clear that his nomination was not going anywhere.
“He’s a wonderful person who was put in a horrible position,” his good friend the Washington lawyer Jamie Gorelick would later say.
At the time, Mrs. Clinton made no commitment to renominate Judge Garland were she to win the presidency. But the judge did receive the endorsement of Justice Ginsburg.
“I think he is about as well qualified as any nominee to this court,” she said in an interview in her chambers in July 2016. “Super bright and very nice, very easy to deal with. And super prepared. He would be a great colleague.”
For Judge Garland, a grandson of Jewish immigrants who once wanted to be a doctor before settling on the law, the loss of a chance to sit on the Supreme Court was personal and painful, though he took care not to show it. His career was in many ways an extended preparation for it. He had cried when Mr. Obama announced his name to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Scalia.
“The manifest unfairness of what happened is, I am sure, as clear to him as anyone else,” Ms. Gorelick said in an interview in February 2017, shortly after Mr. Trump became president. “But he doesn’t dwell on it. He doesn’t talk about it. He appreciates reality for what it is. He knows that his nomination was put in a terrible political limbo, but he is philosophical about it.”
The court is now shorthanded again, as it was in 2016. Back then, the eight-member court deadlocked only four times, and the justices worked hard to find consensus, sometimes at the cost of extremely narrow decisions. At the time, the court was evenly split between its liberal and conservative wings.
The court faces a new kind of divide after Justice Ginsburg’s death, with its Republican appointees outnumbering its Democratic ones 5 to 3. That may leave less room for compromise. As always, there are hugely consequential cases on the docket: A week after the November elections, the court is set to hear oral arguments in a case, backed by the Trump administration, to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
While the odds appear stacked against Democrats, Ms. Aron said in an interview on Saturday that her group would “fight to win this one,” and would remind voters at every turn that “Republicans played politics with the court.”
So far, two Republican senators — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — have said they would not vote to confirm a nominee before the election. Mr. Trump pressed Senate Republicans on Saturday to confirm his choice to replace Justice Ginsburg “without delay” and said that he expected to name a candidate in the next week.
Late on Friday, not long after Justice Ginsburg died, Mr. McConnell moved to stave off further defections by sending a letter to Republican senators urging them to “keep your powder dry.” People in Washington, and especially Democrats, remember well how satisfied Mr. McConnell was with his decision to keep Justice Scalia’s seat vacant until after Mr. Trump moved into the White House.
“One of my proudest moments,” the majority leader said in a speech in 2016, “was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy.’”
Sarah Lyall contributed reporting from New York.“
Joe Biden’s Court Vacancy Plan: More Talk of Health Care and the Pandemic Mr. Biden has spent months assailing President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. With a bitter Supreme Court confirmation battle looming, he will seek to link the vacancy to the pandemic and the future of health care.
Mr. Biden has spent months assailing President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. With a bitter Supreme Court confirmation battle looming, he will seek to link the vacancy to the pandemic and the future of health care.
For months Joseph R. Biden Jr. has condemned President Trump as a failed steward of the nation’s well-being, relentlessly framing the 2020 election as a referendum on the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now, confronted with a moment that many believe will upend the 2020 election — the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the prospect of a bitter Supreme Court confirmation battle — Mr. Biden’s campaign is sticking to what it believes is a winning strategy. Campaign aides said Saturday they would seek to link the court vacancy to the health emergency gripping the country and the future of health care in America.
While confirmation fights have long centered on hot-button cultural divides such as guns and especially abortion, the Biden campaign, at least at the start, plans to chiefly focus on protecting the Affordable Care Act and its popular guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Arguments in a seminal case that could determine the future of the health care law are set for a week after Election Day, with the administration supporting a Republican effort to overturn it. Mr. Biden will accuse the president, as he already has, of trying to eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions during a pandemic, aides said, with the stakes heightened by a Supreme Court now short one of the liberal justices who had previously voted to keep the law in place.
Despite the Biden team’s confidence, the prospect of Mr. Trump’s appointing a third justice to the Supreme Court in his first term injects a highly volatile element into the race just six weeks before the election. Court battles have long been seen as greater motivation for Republican voters than for Democrats, though the record sums of money flooding into Democratic campaigns in the hours after Justice Ginsburg’s death offered progressives hope that they might be equally energized this time.
Still, Biden campaign officials said on Saturday that they did not see even a Supreme Court vacancy and the passions it will inevitably inflame as reason to fundamentally reorient the campaign’s approach. Mr. Biden has consistently led the president nationally and in polls of battleground states throughout the summer.
For Democrats, the focus on health care — overlaid by the pandemic — is a rerun of the successful playbook that helped power the party’s takeover of the House of Representatives in 2018 and a fidelity to Mr. Biden’s steadfast promise to defend Obamacare, a pledge that helped him navigate through the 2020 primary.
“This is a choice between a court that will defend your health care and take your health care away,” said Heidi Heitkamp, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota, who lost in 2018 after voting against Mr. Trump’s last Supreme Court nominee, Brett M. Kavanaugh.
“The winds have shifted on Obamacare,” she said, linking the law’s future to the coronavirus crisis. “The pandemic is about health care. So it’s a continuing of a discussion about health care and who’s the candidate most likely to protect you and your health care.”
The Biden campaign could also still seize on the uncertain future of abortion rights to mobilize younger voters, raising the specter of a Supreme Court tilted toward a 6-to-3 conservative majority.
“If you want something to fire up young people who weren’t all that interested this year, this is it,” John Anzalone, a pollster for Mr. Biden, said, noting that his research suggested that even apolitical young voters grasped abortion politics. “They know Roe v. Wade.”
Mr. Biden quickly called on Friday for the Senate to stop any nomination to the Supreme Court before the election, and Senate Democrats huddled on a Saturday afternoon conference call to plot their path forward. Mr. Trump pledged on Saturday to move forward “without delay,” saying that his nominee would be a woman and that he would announce his pick in the next week. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has vowed that there will be a floor vote.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, exhorted his Democratic colleagues to communicate the real-world stakes of a conservative-dominated court, urging them to make the case that another Trump pick would jeopardize the health law.
“Health care, protections for pre-existing conditions, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights, labor rights, voting rights, civil rights, climate change and so much else is at risk,” Mr. Schumer told his colleagues, according to a person on the call.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Schumer were scheduled to speak late in the day. Mr. Biden himself had no events scheduled on Saturday and was expected to spend part of the next week preparing for the first debate, which will be held on Sept. 29.
Mr. Biden — who has pledged to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court — was not expected to move to announce his own list of possible choices before Election Day, as Mr. Trump recently did. In a statement, Mr. Biden’s campaign said the former vice president was not “going to play politics on this as Donald Trump has.”
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, agreed with that approach. “It’s less about motivating people around a specific individual to be named to that court,” she said in an interview. “I think we are highly motivated about just making sure that vacancy is protected and preserved for the next president.”
“Right now,” she said of naming names, “the costs outweigh the benefits.”
The Biden campaign will have an unusually direct role in the confirmation fight through Senator Kamala Harris of California, Mr. Biden’s running mate, who stopped by the steps of the Supreme Court on Saturday morning. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ms. Harris will serve as an interrogator for whomever Mr. Trump nominates. She has already shined in that role in some notable confrontations with past Trump appointees, including both of his attorneys general.
Mr. Biden’s advisers and allies believe that the political environment in the country has reversed years of conventional wisdom that court fights better mobilize conservatives than progressives. Democratic strategists said Mr. McConnell’s decision in 2016 to block President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick B. Garland; the election of Mr. Trump; and clarifying court decisions on crucial issues involving immigration, gay rights and abortion had flipped that dynamic.
“Democrats should not approach this from a defensive posture,” said Guy Cecil, the leader of one of the party’s biggest super PACs, Priorities USA, noting that internal polling showed the court as the biggest motivating issue after a defeat of Mr. Trump. “Our goals of stopping this nomination and winning the election are aligned.”
Democratic donors poured unprecedented sums of money into campaigns and causes in the hours after Justice Ginsburg’s death was announced, donating about $80 million online in the first 24 hours.
An avowed institutionalist and former Judiciary Committee chairman himself, Mr. Biden won the Democratic primary campaign in part by ignoring some of loudest voices on the left.
Just this past week, the former vice president predicted in a CNN town hall that there would be “somewhere between six and eight Republicans who are ready to get things done” once Mr. Trump is gone. His instincts and his inclination to reach across the aisle, which has been pilloried by many on the left as naïve in this era of hyperpolarized politics, will be severely stress tested with the looming confirmation fight.
Some progressive groups are already mounting a pressure campaign on the Democratic Party and Mr. Biden to embrace adding new justices to the court as a countermeasure in 2021, presuming that the party seizes control of the White House and Senate in November.
Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the Working Families Party, urged Mr. Biden to say that he would “stop at nothing” to prevent a “hyperconservative court.”
“People ultimately want a fighter,” he said. “And this is an opportunity to demonstrate the fight that he has within him.”
Mr. Biden has previously said that he opposes court-packing. “We’ll live to rue that day,” he said last year.
Other Democrats said the battle was a chance for Mr. Biden to highlight his relationships and experience as a senator and vice president.
“This is the time,” said Leah D. Daughtry, a veteran Democratic strategist, “for all his life experience, his knowledge, his relationships to come together in how he is strategically navigating this nomination process.”
Jonathan Martin, Rebecca R. Ruiz and Glenn Thrush contributed reporting.”