10.12.20

Opening Statement On The Nomination Of Justice Amy Coney Barrett To Be Associate Justice Of The United States Supreme Court

I have served in the Senate for 46 years, a span that includes 20 Supreme Court nominations and 16 confirmation hearings.  None – not one – looked anything like this one.

We are less than two weeks removed from Justice Ginsburg being laid to rest.  It is true that it is the responsibility of this Committee to consider her replacement on the Supreme Court.  But this is not how we should do it.  We should not have had a nomination ceremony before Justice Ginsburg was even buried, while the nation was mourning her passing.  We should not be holding a hearing just 16 days later, when this Committee has afforded itself three times as long to vet other modern nominees to our nation’s highest court.  

We should not be holding a hearing three weeks from a presidential election, when millions of Americans have already voted.  Not when doing so requires that literally half of the Senate go back on their word, contradicting every argument they made four years ago about the American people needing a voice during election year vacancies. 

We should not be holding this hearing when it is plainly unsafe to do so.  I’d like to place into the record a letter from Senators Booker, Harris and myself to the Chairman, asking that these hearings not proceed without proper testing measures in place.  Two members of this Committee are just now emerging from quarantine after testing positive for COVID.  Other members have declined to get tested at all.  And yet the Chairman has refused to implement a daily testing regime to keep members, staff, and Judge Barrett and her family safe.  By ignoring our request to implement daily testing, this Committee is displaying the same disregard for taking basic steps to mitigate the spread of this virus as President Trump.  The Senate should also not be holding this hearing while doing nothing to pass a desperately-needed COVID relief bill.

Every senator on this Committee knows in her or his heart that this is wrong. 

More than 214,000 Americans have died due to COVID.  Millions more are hurting.  The virus is spiking again across the country.  Yet President Trump and Senate Republicans feel no urgency to meet the needs of American families in the face of this crisis.  This is despite the fact that claims for unemployment benefits have remained above 800,000 every week, since mid-March.  This is despite the fact that lines at food banks are at historic levels.  Schools are struggling to safely educate our children both in the classroom and remotely.  Parents are struggling to find safe and affordable child care.  And families are struggling to pay rent at a time when eviction moratoriums have expired. 

It has now been five months since the House passed the HEROES Act.  As a result of Republicans’ stonewalling, Americans now face yet another month without any relief.  Instead of working to assist struggling Americans, Senate Republicans are consumed only with this mad rush to fill a Supreme Court vacancy on the eve of a presidential election.

And why?  The answer, I fear, is painfully clear.  With this vacancy, President Trump and Senate Republicans see the potential to wildly swing the balance of the Court and transform our independent courts into a far-right arm of the Republican Party.  The potential to accomplish through the courts what they have failed to accomplish in the halls of Congress. 

At the top of their hit list is the Affordable Care Act.  It is no secret, and it is no coincidence, that Republicans are rushing to confirm Judge Barrett before the Supreme Court considers the latest Republican-led lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act on November 10.  The President has promised that any judge he nominates will overturn the Affordable Care Act.  For her part, Judge Barrett’s writings have made it unequivocally clear that she believes the law is unconstitutional.

Overturning the Affordable Care Act has been perhaps the single most important policy objective of the Republican Party over the last decade.  If Republicans are now successful, the results will be nothing short of catastrophic for the millions of Americans who depend on its coverage and protections.

This is Mary Nadon Scott.  She lives in Northfield, Vermont, just over the ridge from my home in Middlesex.  In her twenties, Mary was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a rare neurological disease that’s a preexisting condition.  While Vermont has some protections for those with pre-existing conditions, they apply only to certain insurance plans and wouldn’t protect anyone who moves out of state.

Like my wife, Marcelle, Mary worked as a nurse.  After her diagnosis she realized she would soon no longer be able to pursue the career she loved.  So Mary asked the hospital to rotate her through different specialties so she could help more people, in as many ways as possible.  That’s who Mary is.  While Mary is now in a wheelchair and can no longer practice nursing, she still does everything for her two kids.  I had the pleasure of calling one of her sons on his birthday last spring.  Mary attends their soccer games, helps with their remote school, and even brought them to tour the Vermont State House.

Mary can do this because of her medications and in-home care paid for by her insurance.  But Mary is worried.  Even with some state protections, Mary is worried what the Supreme Court case next month will mean for people with preexisting conditions like her.  For Mary, her biggest priority is preserving the in-home support that allows her to continue living at home and taking care of her children.  Mary is a fighter.  But when I think of what the Affordable Care Act means to millions of Americans — and what is on the line with this nomination — I think of people like Mary. 

I also think of Martha Richards.  Martha is another Vermonter who reached out to my office concerned about the fate of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.  Martha earns just over the minimum wage in Vermont while working for the Vermont State Parks.  She raised two kids on her own.  Soon after enrolling in the expanded Medicaid program she began experiencing debilitating pain in her ear and behind her eye.  That led to a series of expensive medical tests, including two MRIs that cost $6,000 each.  She shudders at the thought of what would have happened without the Medicaid expansion.  If it is discarded now — as the Republican Attorneys General have requested in their case before the Supreme Court — millions of Americans like Martha would be on their own.

I do not suggest that Judge Barrett personally desires these consequences.  But these are the inescapable consequences if her stated views on the law prevail on the Supreme Court.  And if Republicans are successful in filling this vacancy prior to November 10, these views will almost certainly prevail.

This is what is at stake here.  This is what weighs heavily on me as we begin these hearings. 

It also weighs heavily on the minds of the Vermonters I represent.  I have heard from them — both often and loudly — since Justice Ginsburg’s passing.  They are scared, Judge Barrett.  They are scared that your confirmation would rip from them their most basic healthcare protections.  They are scared that the clock will be turned back to a time when women had no right to control their own bodies, and when it was acceptable to discriminate against women in the work place.  They are scared that at a time when we are facing the perilous impacts of climate change, bedrock environmental protections will be eviscerated.  They are scared that your confirmation would result in the rolling back of voting rights, workers’ rights, and the rights of the LGBTQ community to equal treatment.  These are the real life implications of decisions made by the Court.  And a majority of Americans, like an overwhelming majority of Vermonters, do not support taking our country in that direction.

Republicans first announced their intention to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat just one hour after the announcement of her death.  From that moment this process has been nothing but shameful.  Worse, it will almost certainly lead to disastrous consequences for Americans.

Justice Ginsburg, I am certain, would have dissented.  And I will, too — on behalf of Vermonters, on behalf of the integrity of the Senate, and on behalf of the majority of Americans who oppose this process.

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