September 22, 2020
Van Hollen Delivers Floor Speech on the Passing of Justice Ginsburg, Need to Uphold her Legacy on the Supreme Court
Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) delivered the following speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate.
Last Friday, our country lost a trailblazer for equality, a moral giant, and a lover of justice, the great Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – affectionately known as R.B.G. While physically small, she had a towering impact on American jurisprudence. While the volume of her voice was not high, her words carried further and had a greater impact than the louder voices that were often around her. She famously observed that many of the laws on the books that pretended to put women on a pedestal actually put them in cages. And then she proceeded to bring cases to strike down those discriminatory laws. She transformed America's legal landscape, especially in the area of gender equality, and that was before she was even appointed and confirmed for the Supreme Court.
On the Supreme Court, with intelligence and persuasion, she was often able to bring others to her point of view, and when she couldn't, she could write a stinging dissent, which she viewed as a conversation with the future. She had optimism in our nation's pursuit of justice that her dissents would be vindicated in time. And I dare say that they already have in so many cases, including her dissent in the voting rights case with the reprehensible 2013 decision where in a 5-4 vote the Supreme Court took a big bite out of the Voting Rights Act. She predicted as soon as that happened many of the states that were subject to the pre-clearance decisions would begin to put up barriers to voting, and that's exactly what happened.
Speaking of the future, her deathbed wish, communicated to her granddaughter – her most fervent wish was that she not be replaced until a new President is installed, whoever that President may be. She died last Friday on Rosh Hashanah. It was a moment where the country needed to come together to celebrate her life and honor her legacy, and that is what so many people did around the country. We saw an outpouring of support from coast to coast – North, South, East, West. We saw large crowds gathering at the Supreme Court. But here in the United States Senate, the Majority Leader didn't have the decency to even provide a respectful pause – a respectful timeout – to honor that legacy. Just over one hour after her death was announced, he put out a statement announcing his power play, a statement saying that President Trump's nominee, whoever it may be, to replace her would get a vote.
The Majority Leader rushed to do that, despite taking the opposite position in March of 2016, when Justice Scalia passed away and President Obama nominated Merrick Garland. And the Majority Leader rushed to commit to that vote, to President Trump's nominee, even though in the middle of this COVID-19 pandemic, we have not even had a chance to vote here in the Senate on the Heroes Act, which passed the House of Representatives over four months ago, providing emergency comprehensive relief to families and workers and small- and medium-sized businesses that are hurting from this pandemic. We haven't had a vote on that in four months, and yet within one hour of Justice Ginsburg's death, the Republican Leader announced we will have a vote on President Trump's Supreme Court nominee.
Mr. President, our country just reached the grim toll of 200,000 Americans dead from COVID-19. More Americans have died from COVID-19 than in any other country on the planet, and a big share of those dead are the direct result of President Trump's calculated indifference, what he describes as “downplaying the threat.” Well, downplaying a known threat led to inaction, and inaction led to thousands more Americans dying than would have been the case. And that inaction has led to far more economic pain and fallout from COVID-19 than had to be the case.
We wouldn't have all these schools closed right now if the President had taken more rapid action, if we had comprehensive universal and rapid testing. But here we are because President Trump wanted to “downplay the threat.” And the President has opposed the Heroes Act, which passed the House of Representatives, and still no vote here in the Senate on that important legislation to help a country in need. So no vote on that, but my goodness, just couldn't wait to announce in one hour of the Justice's passing away that this Senate would vote on President Trump's Supreme Court nomination.
That's despite what Senator McConnell said in 2016 when Justice Scalia passed away and President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill the seat, you heard Senator McConnell and many Republicans say can't do it, we're in the middle of an election year. In fact, the Majority Leader went so far to instruct his members not even to meet with Merrick Garland. Didn't even have a hearing for Merrick Garland. The Majority Leader and so many Republican Senators said oh, we can't do that because primary voting has begun in this 2016 presidential election year. Primary voting has begun, it's underway. And it's important to let the American people weigh in on the presidential election, and then allow whoever wins that presidential election to make their nomination for the Supreme Court. That's what we heard from Senator McConnell and so many of our Republican Senate colleagues back in 2016 – that democracy required that the people’s will be heard in the presidential election year.
Well, it turns out that all of that was just a pure political ploy that we're going to see one set of rules for Democratic presidents like Barack Obama and another set of rules from the Republican majority for Republican presidents like Donald Trump. The dishonesty and rank hypocrisy is obscene, and the American people, regardless of party, see it for what it is.
But as bad as the hypocrisy and the dishonesty is, this is about even more than that. In fact, it's about much more than that. It's about the future direction of our country and the direction of justice in our nation. It's about whether we have a Supreme Court that truly stands for equal justice under law as Justice Ginsburg did. It's about whether we will protect women's rights as Justice Ginsburg did throughout her career before and after being on the Supreme Court. We know where President Trump stands on that. We know he was asked during his Presidential campaign on national television about a woman's right to reproductive freedom. He said women who choose to have an abortion should be punished, should be punished. He has said he will appoint a Justice that will make sure that that's what happens. That's what he said.
We're going to see a Justice that wants to strike down workers' rights and protections, and we are going to see a Justice that wants to destroy the Affordable Care Act. Look, the Affordable Care Act provides important protections to the American people during ordinary times. It's especially important now as we face this COVID-19 pandemic. We know that it's been the goal of President Trump and Republicans for years to destroy and overturn the Affordable Care Act. After all, I think many of us remember being right here on the Senate floor in the summer of 2017. The Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the majority Republicans in the House at that time had passed a law to overturn the Affordable Care Act. President Trump was itching to sign it.
But here in the Senate we defeated that effort by one vote. One vote in the United States Senate, and why did that happen at the time? A lot of people thought it was a foregone conclusion that this Republican majority Senate would vote to strike down the Affordable Care Act. It's because the American people rose up and said hell no. People with diabetes and cancer and heart disease and other preexisting health conditions, and so many other Americans said you know what? This isn't a partisan issue. It's not a partisan issue if I have cancer or diabetes or asthma or other preexisting conditions. Don't take it away.
And guess what? COVID-19 is not a partisan disease either. It will strike people, of course, regardless of political party. So the American people – they got to the phones, they got to social media, they occupied people's offices. They said hell no, and by one vote we protected the Affordable Care Act here in the United States Senate. But that should have been the end of the story. But it wasn't, because what Republicans could not do through the democratic process here in the United States Senate, they decided to take to the courts.
President Obama and his Attorney General Barr are in court right now trying to do there what they could not succeed in doing here in the United States Senate, trying to destroy and overturn the Affordable Care Act. And guess when the Supreme Court hearing on that Affordable Care Act case is scheduled to take place? November 10. November 10, one week, one week after the November 3 election.
So, we see the power play here. Jam through a Supreme Court nominee, put them on the court in time for that hearing so they can hear the case and be part of overturning it. Make no mistake, President Trump has pledged to appoint a Supreme Court Justice who will knock down the Affordable Care Act. We don't know who it's going to be, but we know it's going to be somebody the President believes will strike down the Affordable Care Act. How do we know that? Well, here's what candidate Trump said: “If I win the presidency, my judicial appointments will do the right thing, unlike Bush's appointee John Roberts on Obamacare.” That's candidate Trump in June of 2015.
Here's candidate Trump on another occasion. “I’m disappointed in Justice Roberts because he gave us Obamacare. He had two chances to end Obamacare. He could have ended it by every single measure, and he didn't do it. So, it was disappointing.” He says this on numerous occasions, numerous occasions.
He also tweeted out that he supported in 2012 – this is 2012 when now-Senator Romney was running for President, and Donald Trump tweeted out then: “I'm 100% supporting Mitt Romney's position that we need a justice on the court to strike down Obamacare.”
So nobody should be playing any games. The President has told us he's going to nominate somebody to strike down the Affordable Care Act. That hearing is scheduled for one week after the November 3rd election.
So all of those issues are at stake right now. It appears that we have enough Republican Senators who have said that we will proceed to consider the nomination. They've abandoned the position that Mitch McConnell, the Republican Leader, and so many senators took in 2016, Barack Obama, President Obama where they refused to even provide a hearing, so they're going to proceed.
Let's remember the President has pledged he will nominate somebody who will get rid of the Affordable Care Act, who will strike down a woman's right to choose. That's what the President has said. So just as the American people began to get to the phones and social media and contact their Senators in the summer of 2017 when health care was at risk, when the Affordable Care Act was at risk, we need to make sure that the word gets out again. Because back in 2017, we stopped that from happening by one vote in the United States Senate because the American people understood what was at stake.
Here we are now in a global pandemic, and instead of focusing on the pain the American people are feeling at the moment, instead of allowing a vote on the Heroes Act, we have this Republican majority trying to power through a Supreme Court nominee to strike down the Affordable Care Act, to do through the Courts what they were unsuccessful doing here on the Senate floor in the summer of 2017.
So, let's recognize the consequences of this abuse of power and the impact and harm that it will do to the American people. Let's take the advice and dying wish of Justice Ginsburg, allow the American people to speak on November 3, and then allow whoever is sworn in on Inauguration Day in January, put forward a nominee to be considered by the United States Senate. Thank you, Mr. President.
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