04.19.16

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the 21st Anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing

Today we remember the victims and families whose lives were forever changed by the bombing in Oklahoma City twenty-one years ago.  That bombing shook our Nation to its core.  It remains the worst act of home-grown terrorism our Nation has endured.  The destruction and loss of life were overwhelming.  This photograph, of a firefighter carrying the limp and bloodied body of a toddler from the wreckage, came to symbolize the horror of the attack.  One hundred sixty-eight innocent lives perished that day, nineteen of them children.

The impact of that loss on the Oklahoma City community was enormous.  Nearly everyone knew someone who had lost a friend or family member.  The city’s emergency services and victim support resources were quickly overwhelmed.  And as the days went by and the needs mounted, it became clear that the existing state and Federal resources were simply insufficient to respond to such a massive attack. 

To respond to the victims’ needs, I proposed and Congress passed the Victims of Terrorism Act of 1995.  Among other important matters, my legislation created an emergency reserve as part of the Crime Victims Fund to serve as an emergency resource in the wake of an act of terrorism or mass violence.  Without such a fund, State victim compensation and assistance programs are quickly overwhelmed.  This new fund was critical in ensuring that additional resources got to the field quickly. 

Over the last two decades, this fund has been instrumental in allowing the Federal government to immediately respond to the victims of other unspeakable acts of mass violence, including the 9/11 terrorist attack and more recently, the domestic terror attack in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Last month, I met with the former Federal prosecutor who managed the investigation and prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombers.  That former prosecutor was Chief Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the Supreme Court last month.  But before he was a judge and a nominee to serve on the highest court in the land, he was a prosecutor and a senior official at the Justice Department.  Immediately after hearing the news of the devastation in Oklahoma City, Merrick Garland turned to the Deputy Attorney General and said simply: “You need to send me there.”  The next day, Merrick Garland became the highest-ranking Department of Justice official on the ground in Oklahoma City after the bombing.  He helped oversee every aspect of the criminal investigation and response, and years later, he still considers his work in Oklahoma City the most important of his life. 

Chief Judge Garland’s commitment to fairness during that difficult period, and his work with the citizens of Oklahoma City, was formative for him and left a lasting impression on those he served.  In 2015, the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum honored Merrick Garland with a Reflections of Hope Award for his work on behalf of victims.  And after his nomination to the Supreme Court last month, the museum’s Executive Director said, “We are so proud that Judge Garland, who kept the family members and survivors front and center during his work in Oklahoma City has been nominated.”

We have also heard from a team of former prosecutors, law enforcement agents, and victims’ advocates who worked directly with Chief Judge Garland in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing.  They have written to the leadership of the Senate and the Judiciary Committee to highlight Chief Judge Garland’s work on this terrorism case and to strongly support his nomination to the Supreme Court.  I ask unanimous consent that a copy of this letter be included in the Record.  The law enforcement team writes of Chief Judge Garland: “Twenty years ago, the nation could not find a better lawyer to manage the investigation and prosecution of what was then the worst crime ever committed on American soil.  Today, our nation could not find a better judge, nor a more honorable man, to join its highest court.” 

The American people need to know that it is this dedicated public servant who is being denied a public hearing by Senate Republicans.  No nominee to the Supreme Court has ever been treated the way Senate Republicans are treating Chief Judge Garland.  Since public confirmation hearings began in 1916, the Senate has never denied a Supreme Court nominee a hearing and a vote.  And Republicans have no good reason for their obstruction of Merrick Garland. 

Americans by a 2-to-1 margin want Chief Judge Garland to have a public hearing in the Judiciary Committee.  Based on more than four decades of precedent, that hearing should take place in the Judiciary Committee next week.  Instead, Senate Republicans continue to ignore the American people.  Neil Siegel, law professor at Duke University, has pointed out, “It does not matter constitutionally, nor as a matter of tradition, whether a nomination is made in an election year.  Numerous nominations have succeeded during election years.  Without exaggeration, Senate Republicans have made up a distinction without a relevant constitutional difference.”  Even school children know that Presidents are elected to four-year terms and must carry out their constitutional duties each and every year.  It is no different for Senators.  We cannot sit this year out just because an election will be held in November.  As Professor Siegel concludes, Senate Republicans “are harming the court without a justification that passes the laugh test.”

Today, as we remember the victims, their families, and the entire Oklahoma City community, we should also remember the good that the Senate has done when we put aside destructive partisanship and come together to act for the good of the country.  This body has done that time and again as it has carried out its constitutional duty to consider nominees to the Supreme Court.  I hope the Senate will carry out that duty for a public servant named Merrick Garland who has served his Nation so honorably.

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