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What a post-Ruth Bader Ginsburg court will mean for issues Jews care about

It’s clear that an already conservative-leaning Supreme Court will lean even more conservative once the Senate approves President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the seat occupied by Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who died last week.

On the face of it, conservatives will hold a 6-3 majority in major cases, a far stronger position than their previous 5-4 majorities in all but the few cases in which Chief Justice John Roberts voted with Ginsburg and the liberal wing.

Years of polling and voting data show that American Jewish opinion, while solidly liberal, falls across the political spectrum, with certain issues attracting the most attention.

The Forward asked Laurie Levenson, a renowned lawyer and law professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, to examine the intersection of the court-to-come on issues that many American Jews care about, and on the values they hold dear. What follows are her thoughts on several major issues of the day through the lens of Jewish tradition and the Supreme Court bearing the next Trump appointee, his third.


Image by Getty Images

“We’re moving toward a court that is highly Catholic, and in their perspective life begins at conception, and they want to overturn Roe v. Wade. I don’t think that accurately reflects the Jewish perspective. Jews don’t necessarily believe that life begins at conception. That doesn’t mean that abortion is available at will, but it also doesn’t mean that Jews would subscribe to what is coming down the pike. What’s coming down the pike may be criminalizing a wide range of termination procedures, really cutting into reproductive rights. Jews can’t think, ‘I’m a Jew and I control my uterus.’ They’ll make it significantly more difficult if not impossible for some women to control their own bodies. The Jewish perspective of when life begins and who controls a woman’s body is a very different perspective from those who hope to take the bench. Ginsburg versus whoever, the difference is day and night on this issue.”

Health Care

Last minute Obamacare signup, Miami, March 31. Image by Getty Images

“We have an all-out attack on Obamacare. I don’t know that you’re going to find any Talmudic text on Obamacare, but I do think you’ll find, in general, Jewish text on health care being a collective responsibility. A community has to be invested in helping each other stay well. The whole goal of getting rid of Obamacare for Jews presents the issue of do we really take seriously health care, do we take care of the most vulnerable among us? Or is this something that is not our problem and contrary to Jews for whom tzedakah is a part of our DNA, as is the idea that you do have a moral obligation to provide for the health and welfare of others.”

Separation of Church and State

“It’s hard to remind Jews that we actually live in a Christian state. What the First Amendment does depends on who’s on the Supreme Court. In terms of prayer in school, with the new Supreme Court, I can pretty much assure you, it won’t be the Aleinu that they’re reciting. Jews forget that the separation of church and state is really designed to protect minority religions. We are a small minority religion. People on the Supreme Court will say we are a Christian state. The State can’t force you to be a particular type of Christian. But they don’t have any problem saying we are a Christian state. In that regard, we should have religious symbols on public property, prayer in school; I also question whether you’ll see evolution versus creationism come up. We’re already seeing it in the support for parochial schools. The separation of church and state will be nearly obliterated by who’s likely to take Ginsburg’s place, and the least of our problems will be the 10 Commandments appearing everywhere you go.”


Protestors arrested at pro-immigration rally

“Never Again” Protesters arrested at a pro-immigration rally Image by gili getz

“In Jewish tradition, we are taught to care for the stranger because we were once strangers in a strange land. A new conservative court will predictably take the Administration’s position in shutting down DACA, increasing use of deportation laws, imposing broad travel bans, and using funds to build the border wall.”

LGBTQ rights

Orthodox rabbi at Jerusalem Pride Parade

“There is a huge difference on this issue, at least with conservative and reform Jews versus the right-wing Christian majority. Conservative and reform Jews have fully embraced same-sex relationships. With a new Supreme Court justice it’ll be much more precarious for people who are gay, transgender, or non-conforming in their sexual identification. Their’s is a less tolerant view. Like whether you can teach evolution in schools, it’s part of a slippery slope that will impact Jews who come from these backgrounds or have family members. But frankly, once you can make a group ‘the other,’ it’s not that hard to make more people ‘the other.’ And we are ‘the other.’”

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