Amy Coney Barrett hearing reveals Senate’s misplaced priorities
With more than 7.8 million COVID-19 infections and more than 215,000 deaths in the U.S., it is shameful that people in America right now cannot count on the Senate to deliver any relief for them. Instead, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has abused his power to rush through Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination, barely a month after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away.
Barrett’s hearing started just 16 days after President Trump announced her nomination in a symbolically and physically reckless gathering. As Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a former chairman of the committee, noted during the opening day of the hearings, the Senate Judiciary Committee has taken three times as long to vet other recent nominees.
Why the rush? Because Republican leaders’ priorities are out of sync with what people and communities need. Instead, they are eager to cement their grip on a Supreme Court that will not deliver equal justice for all before our votes are counted in November.
As COVID-19 spikes across the country and around the world, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refuses to allow a vote on the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which the House passed back in May. Rather than provide an economic lifeline to people struggling through a recession that has been made worse by the Trump administration’s monumental mishandling of the pandemic, Senate Republicans are resisting calls to send additional aid to the most vulnerable communities, particularly communities of color, and to financially strapped states that have been devastated by both the pandemic and the recession.
That’s not the only misplaced priority on display.
The pandemic has also created upheaval in the administration of our elections, with millions of additional people voting by mail. Rather than viewing this as an opportunity to make voting more accessible, the Trump administration and its allies have declared war on the U.S. Postal Service and the integrity of our election systems. And rather than helping states make voting safe and secure, Republicans have deployed teams of lawyers to interfere with efforts to improve access to elections. Despite these barriers, more than 13 million ballots have already been cast.
Worse, McConnell stubbornly refuses to allow consideration of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would counter the disenfranchisement of communities of color that has been widespread since the Supreme Court’s infamous 2013 decision gutting key enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important achievements of the civil rights movement. With the late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) presiding, the House passed legislation since named in his honor last December. But it has stalled in the Senate.
And millions of Americans have engaged in nonviolent protests this year in a historic movement objecting to systemic racism, violent policing and lack of accountability for law enforcement officers’ deadly misconduct. In response to overwhelming support for greater justice in our criminal legal system, the civil and human rights community came together to urge passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would take important steps toward the comprehensive police transparency and accountability Americans deserve.
The House passed the George Floyd Act in June, but McConnell has found no time for the Senate to address this urgent national priority.
Why is Graham holding this hearing? Why does McConnell continue to prevent the Senate from acting on economic relief for devastated people and communities? Why is he blocking action to make our elections safe and secure and accessible to all voters? Why does he not allow progress on the public’s demand for more accountable policing?
McConnell has subverted every national priority, every urgent need, to leave as his legacy a federal judiciary that is dominated by judges who will shift the court further away from equal justice and his determination to see the Affordable Care Act scrapped along with Roe v. Wade, leaving millions of people without access to lifesaving medical care as the pandemic worsens. Based on Barrett’s record, there is little doubt that her addition to the highest court in the land would pose a grave threat to core civil rights protections that could set us back for generations.
Most people in America believe the next president should fill the Supreme Court vacancy. But with the Supreme Court scheduled to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act just a week after the election, Graham and McConnell are not taking any chances. They are rushing forward, throwing aside norms and scrapping previous timelines, and irresponsibly disregarding the health of senators and staff to hold a confirmation hearing shortly after the spread of COVID-19 through attendees of the nominee’s announcement ceremony.
The Senate majority’s agenda is morally indefensible. It has been wrong throughout the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, wrong in response to desperate calls for police accountability, and wrong during this election season — this despite constituent calls for them to abandon their misplaced priorities. The hearing makes clear that Senate Republicans are living in an alternate reality. But they can no longer pretend that a rushed process to put their nominee on the court is its most important business.
When there’s so much at stake, why the rush?
Senate Republicans are grasping any last chance to hold onto power well after public support has lapsed and their terms are over. The Senate should instead tend to the business of people and address the devastating effects of this pandemic, not rush through a nominee who would take away our health care access.
LaShawn Warren is executive vice president of government affairs at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.