Eight months pregnant with her first child — a little girl — Amanda Padilla imagined a world where the rights she enjoys as a woman could be rolled back without Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a bulwark against conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court. So she got active, signing up for phone and text banks to reach out to other women from her suburban Bloomington home.
Sarah Minnich activated, too, jumping in a van with other college students to drive from Iowa to St. Paul to talk with voters about the prospect of a new justice on the Supreme Court, one who would “uphold the law and respect that law for all humans, including the pre-born.”
With just six weeks until the Nov. 3 election, Ginsburg’s death and the push from President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans to quickly nominate a new conservative justice in her place has galvanized women in Minnesota on both sides of the fight. While Democrats mourn the loss of a liberal icon — affectionately dubbed the Notorious RBG — Republicans are emboldened by the prospect of yet another justice hand-picked by President Donald Trump. His nominee, expected to be named Saturday, would cement a solid conservative majority on the court for decades to come.
It’s heightened the stakes in an election that’s been dominated by the coronavirus, racial tensions and police killings. But Ginsburg’s death has put the spotlight on issues she championed, including equal rights for women and Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right to legal abortion. With Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment in 2018, Republicans could get the solid 6-3 majority they need to potentially overturn that ruling.
“We were at the point where we had a tiny, 87-year-old woman standing between us and losing all of this progress we’ve made,” said Padilla. “It lit a fire under me. I wanted to be able to tell [my daughter] what I did about it.”
Groups on both sides of the abortion debate had already planned to spend more on the 2020 election than any previous presidential election. Now they’re redoubling their efforts to mobilize voters concerned about the Supreme Court vacancy. Planned Parenthood is running new television and digital ads in swing states highlighting Ginsburg’s legacy and criticizing Trump for “threatening coverage for pre-existing conditions and reproductive freedom.” Organizers in Minnesota have launched an RBG week of action, with text banks and digital ads launching encouraging people to join the cause.
Anti-abortion groups like Students for Life are likewise canvassing across Minnesota and other potential swing states, hoping to connect with voters and “educate” them on the abortion records of local, state and federal candidates for office.
Historically Republicans have been more successful at mobilizing voters over the issue of abortion. But Kavanaugh’s appointment had already put abortion-rights supporters on edge, and now they’re confronting the fear that Republicans will completely unravel Ginsburg’s legacy. In the three days after Ginsburg’s death, Democratic candidates raised $160 million through ActBlue, a digital fundraising tool.
“I’m not saying it will likely sway a committed voter to change their vote, but what we are seeing is the impact in terms of how hard women are going to work in these final six weeks before Election Day,” said Meggie Wittorf, executive director of Women Winning, which supports abortion-rights candidates in Minnesota.
Polls have shown Trump’s support among women slipping, particularly in the suburbs. In 2018, women voters were key in delivering big suburban wins that helped Democrats regain control of the Minnesota House and take back two congressional seats that had been long held by Republicans.
Cheryl Poling, chairwoman of local Democrats in the suburban Third District, said she’s been blown away by the number of people — particularly young women — who have come out of the woodwork in the days since Ginsburg’s death to volunteer for Democratic candidates.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming, frankly, the number of people stepping up and just infuriated over the hypocrisy that they’re seeing from Senate Republicans,” said Poling, noting that GOP leaders wouldn’t hold hearings on Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s pick for the court in 2016, because it was too close to the election.
But Republicans in Minnesota now say it’s the president’s duty to put forward a nominee for the Supreme Court and the Senate’s responsibility to hold hearings. Trump is expected on Saturday to nominate Amy Coney Barrett, only the second woman to be elevated by a Republican president.
That’s motivating for Amy Stretcher Burkes, a Trump supporter who lives in Minnetonka.
“This is such a huge opportunity because, as a conservative female, I don’t feel like I have a voice on the Supreme Court,” said Stretcher Burkes. “It’s really motivating. It just reinforces why we need to get out and vote.”
Kathy Tingelstad, a former state legislator and president of the Minnesota Federation of Republican Women, said Ginsburg’s death and the 100th anniversary of 19th Amendment has put the spotlight on women candidates more than ever before. She’s hopeful that whatever happens at the top of the ticket more women will be elected to federal, state and local offices in November.
“They always used to say, all things being equal, a woman would usually get about three percentage points better than a man in an election,” she said. “But I think there’s a lot of women’s issues converging here at the same time.”
Briana Bierschbach • 651-925-5042