September 24, 2020

VIDEO: On the Senate Floor, Udall Honors Justice Ginsburg, Raises Alarm that GOP Supreme Court Pick Could Gut the Affordable Care Act During Pandemic

With her final words to the American people, Justice Ginsburg urged the Senate to withhold her replacement “until a new president is installed”

Senate Republicans have delayed urgently-needed COVID-19 relief that New Mexico families and Americans have needed for months, but are rushing to confirm a lifetime appointment during the 2020 presidential election

VIDEO LINK: https://youtu.be/sLpSF27EntM  

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), spoke on the Senate floor to pay tribute to the life and extraordinary public service of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, highlighting her fight for equal justice under the law. Udall also voiced significant concern that the Supreme Court is set to hear a major Republican challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in November in a case that could rip away health insurance for tens of millions of Americans with preexisting health conditions. 

Udall further condemned the Senate Republican rush to vote on a new Supreme Court Justice—only hours after Justice Ginsburg’s death—while refusing to act on further COVID-19 relief for New Mexico families and state, local and Tribal governments.

“Last Friday, as the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah began, our nation lost a titan of justice and an unmatched force for good: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Udall began.“According to Jewish tradition, a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a tsaddik – a person of great righteousness. Justice Ginsburg – who was only the seventh Jewish Supreme Court Justice and the first female Jewish Justice – was indeed righteous. 

“My wife Jill and I were proud to call Ruth a friend. And like all Santa Fe-ans, we’re proud that Ruth graced our city at the Santa Fe Opera every summer. She loved New Mexico, and New Mexico loved her. 

“Justice Ginsburg was brilliant, determined, and courageous,” Udall said. “All of us – women and men alike – owe a debt of gratitude to Justice Ginsburg and to her righteous and unwavering commitment to justice and equality under the law.”

Udall called on Senate Republicans to honor Justice Ginsburg’s last wishes – and their own precedent – and give the American people a voice in choosing the next Supreme Court Justice. “As you’ve now heard many times, Justice Ginsburg’s last words to the American public were, ‘My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.’ Yet, mere hours after the Supreme Court announced Justice Ginsburg’s passing – while the nation was in mourning – Leader McConnell announced he would replace her before the current presidency ends.

“Let me say this: while my heart is broken, my soul is on fire,” Udall continued, highlighting the grave risk to health insurance for millions of Americans with preexisting health conditions if Republicans can rush a vote on the lifetime appointment. “Senator McConnell is moving at lightning speed to steal this second Court seat because he knows this President faces an uncertain electoral future….But the real scandal will be what this means for the American people. On November 10th, 7 days after Election Day, the Supreme Court will hear argument on the legality of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA. After failing to repeal the ACA in Congress, now the Republicans are trying to destroy it in the courts. And they’re rushing to fill this vacancy with a judge who will do that work for them.

“Before the ACA, insurance companies could deny health care insurance to people with pre-existing conditions,” Udall continued. “Up to 129 million Americans under age 65 have pre-existing conditions. The millions of people who have been infected by COVID-19 now have a preexisting condition for the rest of their lives. In my home state of New Mexico – more than 840,000 people live with a pre-existing condition.”

Udall further addressed the broken priorities of the Senate Republican majority. “We talk a lot about priorities here in the Senate. Right now, you’re seeing Senate Republican priorities in stark relief. They’ll rush a lifetime Supreme Court pick in weeks – violating every principle they established themselves – to please their far-right donors. But they’ll neglect relief for you – for struggling families, for people out of work, for people sick and dying – for months.

“Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that the president has explicitly said that he wants to fill this vacancy to help decide the 2020 election in his favor,” Udall concluded. “He openly admits that he wants the Supreme Court to decide the election by disqualifying votes he does not like, and even refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. The Senate should not become an accomplice to this corrupt scheme that threatens the future of our democracy.  And every Senate Republican should condemn the President’s refusal to commit to give up power peacefully.”

Udall’s remarks are below.

Mr. President. Last Friday, as the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah began, our nation lost a titan of justice and an unmatched force for good: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

According to Jewish tradition, a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a tsaddik – a person of great righteousness.

Justice Ginsburg – who was only the seventh Jewish Supreme Court Justice and the first female Jewish Justice – was indeed righteous. 

My wife Jill and I were proud to call Ruth a friend. And like all Santa Fe-ans, we’re proud that Ruth graced our city at the Santa Fe Opera every summer. She loved New Mexico, and New Mexico loved her.  

Our hearts are with Justice Ginsburg’s family. You shared a national treasure with all of us, and we are eternally grateful.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of only 12 women who graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959. With a young child in tow, she tied for first in her class. Talk about a trailblazer.

Indeed, RBG – as she’s so affectionately called – blazed so many trails – too many to list. The first woman to serve on two major law reviews. One of the first female law professors in the nation. She co-founded the first law journal on women’s rights and co-authored the first case book on gender discrimination. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to push open those doors because no one opened them for her. She was no stranger to gender discrimination: She was demoted at work when she became pregnant with her first child, refused a U.S. Supreme Court clerkship because she was woman, paid less than her male counterparts as a law professor. 

Always driven toward justice, RBG became the leading legal mind behind incrementally dismantling gender discrimination laws in the U.S. She spearheaded the strategy to apply the Fourteenth Amendment – requiring “equal protection under the law” – to women, and won in the Supreme Court 5 times. Her victories helped take down the mass of legal structures relegating women to second class status.

She accomplished what was nearly impossible, and expanded who is included in “We the People.”

Her quest for justice never ended.

As a jurist, she authored groundbreaking opinions – striking down strict requirements on abortion clinics designed to put them out of business, establishing the right of persons with mental illness to be treated in the community instead of institutions, opening up Virginia Military Institute to female cadets. 

And she’s as well known for her forceful dissents. “I dissent,” has become a rallying crying against an activist, conservative Court.

In 2013, when the Court struck down the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Ginsburg declared that, “Hubris is a fit word for the demolition of the VRA,” observing that striking down voting protections because they worked too well was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.” 

Justice Ginsburg was brilliant, determined, and courageous. Now, as her long and well-lived life has come to end, and as our nation mourns – it is only fitting that she continue making firsts: as the first woman to lie in state in the Capitol.

All of us – women and men alike – owe a debt of gratitude to Justice Ginsburg and to her righteous and unwavering commitment to justice and equality under the law.

As you’ve now heard many times, Justice Ginsburg’s last words to the American public were, "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."

Yet, mere hours after the Supreme Court announced Justice Ginsburg’s passing – while the nation was in mourning – Leader McConnell announced he would replace her before the current presidency ends. 

Let me say this: while my heart is broken, my soul is on fire.

Not only are Senate Republicans disregarding Justice Ginsburg’s last request, they are turning their back on the principle that they claimed was pure just 4 years ago. 

In February 2016, Justice Scalia passed away – a full 9 months before the presidential election.

At that time, the Majority Leader refused to hold hearings on President Obama’s highly qualified nominee proclaiming, "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” 

Those words meant nothing. They were deceitful tricks in pursuit of raw power. And they have brought shame upon this body. 

Election Day is only 40 days away. But it’s more accurate to say the election ends in 40 days. Because the election is actually underway today. 

Voters are already voting in 29 states – more than half. Tens of millions of Americans will cast their vote before Election Day.

The Leader’s vow to vote to replace Justice Ginsburg is a slap in the face to these voters and runs roughshod over the Constitution.

Senator McConnell is moving at lightning speed to steal this second Court seat because he knows this President faces an uncertain electoral future. He’s scared to let the American people – as he put it – “have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.”

This hypocrisy is only outmatched by the utter disdain for American voters. Disdain for their intelligence. Disdain for their will.

But the real scandal will be what this means for the American people.

On November 10th, 7 days after Election Day, the Supreme Court will hear argument on the legality of the Affordable Care Act, or ACA.

After failing to repeal the ACA in Congress, now the Republicans are trying to destroy it in the courts. And they’re rushing to fill this vacancy with a judge who will do that work for them.  

The Trump administration is standing with 20 Republican Governors and Attorneys General who are asking the Supreme Court to strike down the ACA. 

Republicans are trying to take away Americans’ health care in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century. It is unforgiveable.

By overwhelming numbers, the American people support the ACA.

Before the ACA, insurance companies could deny health care insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. Up to 129 million Americans under age 65 have pre-existing conditions. 

The millions of people who have been infected by COVID-19 now have a preexisting condition for the rest of their lives. 

In my home state of New Mexico – more than 840,000 people live with a pre-existing condition. 

Because of the ACA, 23 million more Americans have health care insurance and millions more have Medicaid expansion. This includes hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans.

When the ACA was challenged years ago, the Supreme Court upheld it by a 5 to 4 vote.

We are one vote away from the decimation of our health care rights – at a time when nearly 7 million Americans have contracted COVID-19. 

The threat is not only to the ACA – but also women’s reproductive health care, our environmental protections, and what is left of our campaign finance limits. 

So we know why they’re moving at a record pace to fill this seat.

But while the President and Majority Leader want to rush through a lifetime justice in just a few weeks – COVID relief has languished on Senator McConnell’s desk for months.

Millions of Americans are out of work. Small businesses are closing their doors. Schools can’t reopen safely. Parents are burning the candle at both ends working and caring for kids at home. State, local, and Tribal governments can’t meet budgets for essential services.

The American people desperately need another relief package.

But the Senate Republicans and the President don’t think there’s any urgency. Leader McConnell said that himself. 

And according to the President, COVID-19 “affects virtually nobody.” 

This virus that “affects virtually nobody” is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.; has taken more lives in 8 short months than the Vietnam and Middle East Wars combined; and has sent our economy into a nose dive not seen since the Great Depression. 

We talk a lot about priorities here in the Senate. Right now, you’re seeing Senate Republican priorities in stark relief. They’ll rush a lifetime Supreme Court pick in weeks – violating every principle they established themselves – to please their far-right donors. But they’ll neglect relief for you – for struggling families, for people out of work, for people sick and dying – for months. 

Finally, we cannot ignore the fact that the president has explicitly said that he wants to fill this vacancy to help decide the 2020 election in his favor. 

He has repeatedly lied that absentee ballots, votes from Democratic areas, or votes that are tabulated after Election Day are somehow fraudulent. 

And like an authoritarian, he does not even try to correct himself when his lies are debunked. 

Instead, he openly admits that he wants the Supreme Court to decide the election by disqualifying votes he does not like, and even refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.

The Senate should not become an accomplice to this corrupt scheme that threatens the future of our democracy. And every Senate Republican should condemn the President’s refusal to commit to give up power peacefully.

And I would note that several of my Republican friends have stood up and have said that there must be a peaceful transition of power. And I applaud them for that. 

Mr. President, I yield the floor.