Schumer Floor Remarks On The SCOTUS Vacancy, North Korea, And Rising Health Care Costs

July 9, 2018

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the SCOTUS vacancy, North Korea, and rising health care costs. Below are his remarks which can also be viewed here:

Mr. President, as everyone knows, later tonight, President Trump will announce his nomination for the upcoming vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Whoever fills Justice Kennedy’s seat will join an otherwise evenly divided court and immediately obtain the ability to affect the laws of the United States and the rights of its citizens for generations to come. Enormously important issues hang in the balance: the right of workers to organize, the pernicious influence of dark money in our politics, the right of Americans to marry who they love, the right to vote.

Two issues of similar and profound consequence are the fate of affordable health care and a woman’s freedom to make the most sensitive medical decisions about her body. These two rights – affordable health care and a woman’s freedom to make sensitive health care decisions – hang in the balance with this nominee. The views of President Trump’s next court nominee could well determine whether the Senate approves or rejects this nomination.

Now, President Trump has already made up his mind. President Trump has repeatedly said that he believes Roe was wrongly decided. He has promised in his own words to nominate only “pro-life judges” whose selection will result in the “automatic” overturning of Roe v. Wade. Those are his words – “pro-life judges,” “automatic.” He’s also said that Chief Justice Roberts has been “an absolute disaster” – his words -- for voting to uphold the health care law and said his judicial appointments “will do the right thing unlike Bush's appointee John Roberts on ObamaCare.” It is near-impossible to imagine that President Trump would select a nominee who isn’t hostile to our health care law and health care for millions, and millions, and millions of Americans; who isn’t hostile to a woman’s freedom to make her own health care decisions.

We can be sure of this because President Trump, during the campaign, asked Leonard Leo, the founder of the Federalist Society, to assemble a list of possible Supreme Court justices for him to pick from. Mr. Leo was not only aware of Candidate Trump’s preference for a Supreme Court that would reverse Roe v. Wade, he – himself – spent his career in pursuit of it.

And that’s not just my view. According to Edward Whelan, a prominent conservative legal activist and blogger, “No one has been more dedicated to the enterprise of building a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade than the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo.” No one has been more dedicated to overturning Roe v. Wade than the very man who chose the list of twenty-five. That’s what we’re up against here. That’s why America is on tenterhooks, so worried about any choice from this list.

Let me repeat again: Mr. Leonard Leo is the man who assembled President Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees. And “no one – no one – has been more dedicated” to overturning Roe v. Wade than Leonard Leo.

Now, normally in the Senate, we would have a process of “advise and consent” on the Supreme Court.  In the old days, the president would consult with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate on a qualified judge and then, after careful deliberation, nominate a jurist that could get bipartisan support. What we have here is the exact opposite.

The president has gone to two far out-of-the-mainstream, hard-right groups – the Heritage Foundation and the Federal Society – and asked them, not the Senate, to advise and consent on a Supreme Court nomination.

Whomever the president selects tonight, if that nominee is from the pre-approved list selected by Leo and the Heritage Foundation, everyone ought to understand what it means for the freedom of women to make their own health care decisions, and for the protection for Americans with pre-existing health conditions: those rights will be gravely threatened.

Mr. President, now we are going to hear a lot this summer about “precedents.” The traditional question on these matters in the past has been: “will the nominee defer to precedent?” Nominees will be asked if they respect “settled law.” This is known as the principle of “stare decisis.” The nominee always answers that – yes – he or she will respect and defer to precedent. And Senators nod their heads having received this rickety, vague assurance that the nominee will not rock the judicial boat, and turn the clock back decades.

But for two reasons, this standard – settled law, stare decisis – is no longer an adequate standard. Why?

First, we have ample examples from the past several years of judges who have sworn in their confirmation hearings to respect precedent, and then reverse their stand once on the court. For example, in his confirmation hearings, then-Judge Gorsuch said that, quote,– “Precedent is like our shared family history of judges. It deserves our respect." Two weeks ago, now-Justice Gorsuch voted to overturn 41 years of precedent in the Janus decision, relying on flimsy and fabricated legal theory. It was so flimsy, in fact, that Justice Kagan wrote in dissent that the majority overruled precedent, “for not an exceptional or special reason, but because it never liked the decision…subverting all known principles of stare decisis.”

Justice Roberts said he would “call balls and strikes” as he saw them; that he would interpret law rather than make it. Of course, Justice Roberts was then responsible for overturning 40 years of precedent in the Citizen’s United decision that so setback our politics, that so deepened the “swamp” that Americans despise by allowing huge amounts of dark money, unreported, to cascade into our political system. On two of the most important rulings in the history of the Roberts’ Court, a cumulative 81 years of precedent were thrown out the window, despite the earnest promises of Justices Roberts and Gorsuch at their hearings. So, when they say they will obey settled law, you can’t believe it. You can’t believe it because it just hasn’t happened in this new, conservative court that is so eager to make law, not interpret it.

And there’s a second reason, maybe even more important than the principle of “I’ll follow settled law” never works, and that’s President Trump. We already know that President Trump’s nominee will be prepared to overturn the precedents of Roe v. Wade and NFIB v. Sebelius. We know that because President Trump has said so. When the president has a litmus test for his nominees, and only chooses from a pre-approved list of nominees designed to satisfy that litmus test, it is certainly not enough for a judge to prove his or her moderation by invoking stare decisis.

Stare decisis and “respect for precedent” have become an almost meaningless bar to set for a Supreme Court nominee. At this critical juncture, with so many rights and liberties at stake, US Senators and the American people should expect an affirmative statement of support for the personal liberties of all Americans from the next Supreme Court nominee.

The American people deserve to know what kind of a Justice President Trump’s nominee would be. President Trump is the one who made the litmus test for his nominees, not us. The onus is on his nominee to show where he or she might stand.

Considering the ample evidence that President Trump will only select a nominee who will undermine protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, give greater weight to corporate interests than the interests of our citizens, no matter what precedent says, and vote to overturn Roe v. Wade – the next nominee has an obligation – a serious and solemn obligation – to share their personal views on these legal issues, no matter whom President Trump selects tonight.

Now briefly, on another matter – the ongoing negotiations with North Korea over their nuclear program. Despite all the reality show pomp and circumstance, the negotiations have thus far been a flop. After the summit, President Trump declared, without any evidence, that’s so typical, that “North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat” – his words -- to the United States. The reality, of course, is far, far different.

Recent reports have shown that North Korea is making upgrades to a nuclear facility and expanding ballistic missile manufacturing.  Just a few days ago, North Korean media called the negotiations with Secretary of State Pompeo quote – “deeply regrettable,” accusing the Trump administration of pushing a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization.” Talks are going great, and then our side is accused of being “gangster-like”? 

For the president to say North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, and then have North Korea’s Foreign Ministry come back and say what they said, shows the disconnect between President Trump’s rhetoric and reality – and the sheer incompetence of this administration.

To those who say – and I hear it all the time from many of my Republican friends in my state and throughout the country -- they say, “Look, we don’t like the president’s style, we wish that he didn’t tweet so much, but we support him because he’s ‘getting stuff done’ – take a look at the yawning gap between what the president claims and what he’s actually achieved.

On North Korea and on so many other issues, like taxes and health care for two other examples, the president makes grand promises, but fails to deliver for the American people.

And finally, Mr. President, one word on health care. Another issue the president has failed to deliver on is health care. After promising far better and cheaper health care for all Americans, President Trump has relentlessly sabotaged our health care system, undermined key protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, and has done all he can to see that premiums rise. Probably the number one issue bothering America today: rising health care costs. Last week, the Trump administration found another way to sabotage our health care system, suspending a critical program that stabilizes the health care insurance markets.

This comes at a time when 2019 premiums are being filed, and insurers from coast to coast are saying that the Republican sabotage is causing premiums to increase, to be much higher than they need to be. Many of these insurers are also saying that if the Trump administration enacts further sabotage – such as actions like this one and the expansion of junk plans that hurt people with pre-existing conditions – then insurers may need to amend their rates and raise premiums even more.

This relentless health care sabotage is politically motivated, spiteful, and accomplishes nothing except to raise costs on middle class families and taxpayers. The Trump administration needs to fix this newest sabotage as quickly as possible. 

###