Schumer Floor Remarks On The Nomination Of Judge Amy Coney Barrett To The United States Supreme Court

October 26, 2020

Washington, D.C. — Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

Today, Monday, October 26, 2020, will go down as one of the darkest days in the 231-year history of the United States Senate.

Let the record show that tonight, the Republican Senate majority decided to thwart the will of the people and confirm a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court in the middle of a presidential election, after a more than sixty million Americans have voted.

Let the record show that tonight, the Republican majority will break 231 years of precedent and become the first majority to confirm a Supreme Court Justice this close to election day.

And let the record show that tonight, the Republican majority will make a mockery of its own stated principle—that the American people deserve a voice in the selection of Supreme Court Justices—completing the partisan theft of two seats on the Supreme Court using completely contradictory rationales.

And let the record show that the American people—their lives, and rights, and freedoms—will suffer the consequences of this nomination for a generations.

This entire debate can be summed up in three lies propagated by the Republican majority, and one great, and terrible truth.

The first lie is that the Republican majority is being consistent in following its own standard. What rubbish.

After refusing a Democratic nominee to the Supreme Court because an election was eight months away, they will confirm a Republican nominee before an election that is eight days away.

What’s Leader McConnell’s excuse? He claims that the principle of not confirming Justices in presidential years only applies when there’s divided government. But this is what Leader McConnell said after Justice Scalia died: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.”

That’s all he said. He didn’t say that the American people should have a voice, but only when there’s divided government. No—that last bit is ex post facto.

If this were really about divided government all along, Republican Senators would not have promised, on the record, to follow their own standard if the situation was reversed. “I want you to use my words against me,” said the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said: ‘let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.’”

So the claim by the Leader that this is consistent with their own principle? Please.

Rather than accept the consequences of its own words and deeds, the Republican majority is lighting its credibility on fire. This hypocritical, 180-degree turn is spectacularly obvious to the American people.

The second lie is that the Republican majority is justified because of Democratic actions on judicial nominations in the past.

The Republican leader claims that his majority’s actions are justified by all the bad things Democrats did years ago. He claims that every escalation of “significance” in judicial debates was made by Democrats.

But in his tortured, convoluted history lesson, Leader McConnell left out a whole bunch of chapters. He omitted that Republicans bottled up more than 60 judicial nominees by President Clinton, refusing them even a hearing. He made no reference to the decision by Republican Senators to hold open 14 appellate court seas in the 1990s so that a Republican president could fill them instead—a tactic Republicans would revisit under President Obama, when Republicans used partisan filibusters to block his nominees to the DC circuit.

At the time, Republican Senators, including my colleague from Kentucky, amazingly accused President Obama of trying to “pack the court,” by the mere act of nominating judges to vacancies on the 2nd Circuit. What a hypocritical, double-standard, which appears to be endemic in Leader McConnell’s recounting of history.

And on top of it all, the Leader has asked the Senate play a blame game that dates all the way to 1987, pointing to a three-minute speech by Sen. Kennedy about Robert Bork as the original sin in the judicial wars. Seriously, that’s what he said. Because one Democrat gave one three-minute speech that Republicans didn’t like, Leader McConnell can steamroll the minority to confirm a Justice in the middle of an election!

Imagine you’re trying to explain to someone: sorry, I have to burn down your house because of something one of your friends said about one of my friends 33 years ago. That’s how absurd and obnoxious this game has gotten. That’s how unjustifiable the majority’s actions are. How flimsy their excuses have become. The Leader’s final argument boils down to “but you started it!” – a declaration you’d sooner hear on the schoolyard than on the floor of the United States Senate.

And the third and perhaps the greatest lie is that the Republican majority is confirming Judge Barrett solely on the basis of her qualifications, not based on her views on the issues.

My colleagues insist that Judge Barrett should be confirmed on her credentials alone. That’s all they talk about. They don’t talk about her views on the issues, only qualifications.

Well, this canard is about as transparent as a glass door. Everyone can see right through it. What is the real reason Republicans are so desperate to rush Judge Barrett onto the Supreme Court? Of course it’s not because of her qualifications!

If my Republican friends truly believed that the only thing that mattered about a judicial candidate is their qualifications…then Merrick Garland would be sitting on the Supreme Court right now.

If the Republican Leader truly believed that judicial appointments were about qualifications, and qualifications alone, Judge Garland would be Justice Garland, right now.

Judge Garland was among the most qualified candidates ever—ever—to be nominated to the Supreme Court. No Republican Senator has disputed that. But they didn’t want Judge Garland on the bench. They do want Judge Barrett.

They subjected Judge Garland to an unprecedented partisan blockade, but they’re erecting a monument to hypocrisy to rush Judge Barrett onto the bench.

Why? It’s not because she’s more qualified than Judge Garland was. What is the difference between Barrett and Garland? The difference is not qualifications but views. We know that. We all know that: health care, a woman’s right to choose, gun safety, you name it. It’s because the far-right wants Judge Barrett’s views on the Court, but not Judge Garland’s.

The truth is, this nomination is part of a decade’s long effort to tilt the judiciary to the far-right; to accomplish through the Courts what the radical right and their allies—Senate Republicans—could never accomplish through Congress.

Senate Republicans failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, so President Trump and Republican Attorneys General are suing to eliminate the law in court.

Republicans would never dare to attempt to repeal Roe v. Wade in Congress, so they pass onerous laws in state legislatures, that they control, to drive that right to point of near extinction, and then provoke the Supreme Court to review Roe v. Wade. The far-right has never held a majority on the Court to limit Roe v. Wade or Griswold. But if Judge Barrett becomes Justice Barrett—it very well might.

And if you’re looking for some hard numbers to prove that the political right considers ideology and not just qualifications, consider this: under Justice Roberts, there have been 80 cases—80—decided by a 5-4 majority in which the 5 Justices nominated by Republican presidents came down on one side, and the 4 Justices nominated by Democratic presidents came down on the other.

80 cases, exactly the same majority. Calling balls and strikes? And in an amazing coincidence: all the Republican-nominated Justices think it’s a strike and all the Democratic ones think it’s a ball, or vice versa?

It would be the most remarkable coincidence in the history of mathematics if 9 Justices, simply calling balls and strikes, exhibited the same split, in the same exact configuration—80 times.

We all know what the game is here. So stop pretending.

Stop pretending that there aren’t entire organizations dedicated to advancing far-right judges.

Stop pretending that the political right doesn’t spend millions of dollars to prop up the far-right Federalist Society and support certain judicial candidates because they  only want “qualified judges.”

No—they want to systematically and permanently tilt the Courts to the far-right.

So does Judge Barrett have views on legal issues? You bet she does.

And that brings me to the one great and terrible truth about this nomination: the American people will suffer the consequences of Judge Barrett’s far-right, out-of-the-mainstream views for generations.

Judge Barrett came before the Judiciary Committee and refused to answer nearly any question of substance. That’s the new game at the hearings. She would not answer questions about health care. She would not say whether voter intimidation is illegal. She would not say if she thought Medicare and Social Security were Constitutional. She could not even offer platitudes in response to questions about the peaceful transfer of power and refused to say if climate change was real.

It’s not because Judge Barrett isn’t allowed to answer those questions, it’s because she knows how unfavorable her views on the issues might sound to the American people. But the thing is…we do know how Judge Barrett thinks.

She views certain rights, like the right to privacy, through a pinhole. She was closely affiliated with organizations who advocated the outright repeal of Roe v. Wade. But she views other rights, like the right to keep and bear arms, as almost infinitely expansive. She once authored a dissent arguing that the federal government does not have the authority to ban all felons—felons—from owning guns.

Only a few hours ago, the Republican Senator from Missouri proudly declared from the Senate floor that Judge Barrett is the most “openly pro-life judicial nominee to the Supreme Court” in his lifetime. “This is an individual,” he said of Judge Barrett: “who has been open in her criticism of that illegitimate decision, Roe v. Wade.” He was being more honest than most of the talk we’ve heard—saying it’s only about qualifications.

Judge Barrett has proudly fashioned herself in the mold of her mentor, Justice Scalia, who, before his death, appeared set to declare union fees to be unconstitutional—driving a stake into the heart of the American labor movement. While Americans workers break their back to make ends meet, and earn ever-less of ever-growing corporate profits—what might Justice Scalia’s former clerk portend for the future of labor rights?

What about voting rights? Judge Barrett has suggested that certain rights are “civic rights”—including voting rights—and can be restrained by the government. But other rights—like the right to keep and bear arms—are “individual rights” that cannot be subject to even the most commonsense restrictions.

And of course what about health care? Judge Barrett has argued that Justice Roberts got it wrong when he upheld the Affordable Care Act. She said that if Justice Roberts’ read the statute properly, the Supreme Court would have had to “invalidate” the law. That’s the same thing, by the way, that Donald Trump said about Justice Roberts and the ACA.

That’s the great and terrible truth about this nomination: Judge Barrett holds far-right views well outside the American mainstream.

And those views matter to the vast majority of Americans.

They matter to women facing the hardest decision of their lives.

They matter to LGBTQ Americans like my daughter who, only five years ago, won the legal right to marry who she loves and could lose it just as fast.

They matter to little girls like seven-year-old Penny Fyman from West Hempstead, Long Island, born with a neurological disorder, bound to a wheelchair and attached to a feeding tube, who is alive today, alive today because of the Affordable Care Act.

We’re talking about the rights and freedoms of the American people. Their right to affordable health care. To make private medical decisions with their doctors. To join a union. To vote without impediment. To marry who they love and not be fired for who they are.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett will decide whether all those rights will be sustained or curtailed for generations. And based on her views on the issues—not her qualifications but her views on the issues—Judge Barrett puts every single one of those fundamental American rights at risk.

So I want to be very clear with the American people: the Senate majority is breaking faith with you—doing the exact opposite of what it promised just four years ago—because they wish to cement a majority on the Supreme Court that threatens your fundamental rights.

And I want to be very clear with my Republican colleagues. You may win this vote. And Amy Coney Barrett may become the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. But you will never, never get your credibility back. And the next time the American people give Democrats a majority in this chamber, you will have forfeited the right to tell us how to run that majority.

You may win this vote. But in the process you will speed the precipitous decline of faith in our institutions, our politics, the Senate and the Supreme Court. You will give an already divided and angry nation a fresh outrage, and open a wound in this chamber that may never heal.

You walk a perilous road.

I know you think that this will eventually blow over. But you are wrong. The American people will never forget this blatant act of bad faith. They will never forget your complete disregard for their voices for the people standing in line right now voting their choice not your choice.

They will never forget the lack of consistency, honor, decency, fairness and principle. They will never forget the rights that are limited, constrained or taken away by a far-right majority on the Supreme Court.

And history will record that by brute political force, in total contradiction to its stated principles, this Republican majority confirmed a lifetime appointment on the eve of an election; a justice who will alter the lives and freedoms of the American people while they stood in line to vote.

Leader McConnell has lectured the Senate before on the consequences of a majority’s actions.

“You’ll regret this,” he told Democrats once, “and you may regret this a lot sooner than you think.”

Listen to those words. “You’ll regret this, and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.”

I would change just one word: my colleagues may regret this for a lot longer than they think.

Here at this late hour, at the end of this sordid chapter in the history of the Senate, the history of the Supreme Court, my deepest and greatest sadness is for the American people.

Generations yet unborn will suffer the consequences of this nomination.

As the globe gets warmer, as workers continue to fall behind, as unlimited, dark money floods our politics, as reactionary state legislatures curtail a woman’s right to choose, gerrymander districts, and limit the rights of minorities to vote.

My deepest, greatest, and most abiding sadness tonight is for the American people, and what this nomination to the Supreme Court will mean for their lives, their freedoms, their fundamental rights.

Monday, October 26, 2020: it will go down as one of the darkest days in the 231-year history of the Senate.