On Senate Floor, Schumer Says New Senate GOP Bill On Policing Does Not Meet The Moment; Schumer Also Discusses Trump’s Egregious Judicial Nominees Walker And Wilson

June 18, 2020

Washington, D.C.—Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor explaining why the Republican policing bill does not meet the moment and discussed Senate Republicans’ continued efforts to confirm Trump’s egregious radical judges who oppose both healthcare law and voting rights. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Two weeks ago, the House and Senate Democrats introduced a bill—the Justice in Policing Act—to bring sweeping change to the nation’s police departments. The bill would bring comprehensive and enduring reforms, the most forceful set of changes to policing in decades. The House Judiciary Committee approved the legislation yesterday and it will pass the full House next week.

Here in the Senate, Republicans put forward their own proposal yesterday, led by the Senator from South Carolina.

We welcome our Republican colleagues to this discussion. It's something they have resisted for so long. But merely writing a bill—any bill—is not good enough at this moment in American history. It’s too low of a bar to simply say  we'll write any old bill. And that isn't good enough for so many people, many of whom are marching in the streets to get real justice.

We don’t need just any bill right now, we need a strong bill. We don’t need some bipartisan talks, we need to save Black lives and bring long overdue reforms to institutions that have resisted them. And the harsh fact of the matter is, the legislation my Republicans friends have put together is far too weak and will be ineffective at rooting out this problem.

The Republican bill does nothing to reform the legal standard that shields police from convictions for violating Americans’ constitutional rights.

It does nothing on qualified immunity, which shields even police who are guilty of violating citizens’ civil rights from being sued for civil damages.

The Republican bill does nothing to encourage independent investigations of police departments that have patterns and practices that violate the Constitution.

The Republican bill does nothing to reform the “use of force” standard, nothing on racial profiling, and nothing on limiting the transfer of military equipment to local police departments.

And what the Republican bill does propose does not go nearly far enough. Unlike the Justice in Policing Act, which bans no-knock warrants in federal drug cases, the Republican bill only requires data on no-knock warrants.

Breonna Taylor, a first responder in Louisville, Kentucky, was asleep in her bed when she was killed by police who had a no-knock warrant. More data would not have saved Breonna Taylor’s life.

Unlike the Justice in Policing Act, which bans chokeholds and other tactics that have killed Black Americans, the Republican bill only purports to ban chokeholds by withholding funding from departments that don’t voluntarily ban them themselves; and only those chokeholds that restrict airflow but not those chokeholds that restrict blood to flow to the brain; and the ban only applies unless the “use of deadly force” is required.

Who determines when the use of deadly force is required? Usually the police themselves, and courts defer to their judgment.

I don’t understand. If you want to ban chokeholds and other brutal tactics that have killed Black Americans in police custody, why don’t you just ban them?

Now, I like my friend from South Carolina, Sen. Scott. I know that he’s trying to do the right thing. But this is not about just doing any bill. This is not about finding the lowest common denominator between the two parties and then moving on. This about bringing sorely needed change to police departments across the country, about stopping the killing of African Americans at the hands of the police, and bringing accountability and transparency to police officers and departments that are guilty of misconduct.

Unfortunately, the Republican bill doesn’t go nearly far enough on prevention, doesn’t go nearly far enough on transparency, and hardly brings even an ounce of accountability.

And that matters a great deal. We have to get this right.

If we pass a bill that’s ineffective, and the killings continue, and police departments resist change, and there’s no accountability, the wound in our society will not close, it will widen.

This is not about making an effort, or dipping our toes into the waters of reform; this is about solving a problem that is taking the lives of Black Americans. Let me say that again because it’s so important for my colleagues across the aisle to hear: this is not about making an effort, or dipping our toes into the waters of reform; this is about solving a problem that is taking the lives of black Americans.

If the bill would not have prevented the death of George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor, or Ahmaud Arbery, or Michael Brown, or Eric Garner, if it won’t stop future deaths of Black Americans at the hands of the very people that are meant to protect and serve them…then it does not represent the change we need right now.

As drafted, the Republican bill does not rise to the moment.

The Democratic bill, the Justice in Policing Act, does.

And of course, while Democrats are glad that Leader McConnell felt the pressure and heeded our call to put policing reform legislation on the floor next week, it won’t be before the Republican Leader asks us to confirm two more hard right-wing judges to the federal bench.

Today, the Senate will vote on Justin Walker, a thirty-eight year-old with less than a year’s worth of experience as a district court judge, to sit on the second highest court in the country for the rest of his life. The temerity of doing that. He is just on the court for a few months, but he is friends with Leader McConnell, so he gets rushed to this very high court without the necessary experience and maturity of judgment. The Republican Senate approved his nomination to the district court on October 24th last year after the ABA rated him “not qualified.” Now, eight months later, Leader McConnell wants to give Justin Walker—a former intern of his—a promotion to the DC Circuit.

Even in his extremely limited time as a jurist, Mr. Walker made news by calling the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold our health care law “catastrophic” and “an indefensible decision.”

I'd like Leader McConnell to go home to Kentucky and tell the citizens of Kentucky why he nominated someone who wants to repeal our health care law when the covid crisis is hurting people there as it is everywhere else.

In the middle of a national public health crisis, the Republican Senate majority is poised to confirm a judge who opposes our country’s health care law.

There is no reason to do this nomination now. There is no stunning number of vacancies on the DC Circuit. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and a national conversation about racial justice and police reform. This is about the Republican leader and his relentless pursuit of a right-wing judiciary.

Usually my friends on the other side vote in lockstep on these judges, so it’s an indication of Mr. Walker’s caliber—or lack thereof—that at least one Senate Republican has announced opposition to his nomination. After Mr. Walker—again, before we move to policing reform—Leader McConnell will put forward the nomination of Mr. Cory Wilson to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Even by the very low standards of President Trump’s nominees to the federal bench, Mr. Wilson is appalling. He has called our nation’s health care law “illegitimate” and “perverse” and advocated the repeal of Roe v. Wade. Worse still, Mr. Wilson has strongly supported restrictive voting measures, including Voter ID laws, and is opposed in this day and age towards minority voting rights.

There will be a massive split-screen in the Senate next week. As we prepare to debate legislation to reduce racial bias and discrimination in law enforcement, Senate Republicans will push a judge who has a history of fighting against minority voting rights. The hypocrisy is glaring.

It's amazing to me the temerity sometimes that the Majority Leader shows in talking about trying to bring racial justice, and putting someone on the bench who has fought against racial justice in terms of voting rights throughout his career. Again, the hypocrisy is glaring. 

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