tv U.S. Senate Sen. Durbin Tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg CSPAN September 22, 2020 2:32am-2:56am EDT
generations to come will have her trailblazing legacy to tha thank. let's honor her memory by following her example, by recommitting ourselves to pursuing a more perfect union, not just for the few. no, not just for the few but for all americans. madam president, i yield the floor. i suggest the absence ask unanis consent that the quorum callen suspended. the presiding officer: without objection. the democratic senator. the democratic whip. mr. durbin: thank you, madam president. we passed our 200th recorded death from covid-19 this weekend. we are a nation in mourning. in addition to 200,000 family, friends, and neighbors we have now lost to this brutal
pandemic, america is also mile-per-hour the loss of an historic -- mourning the loss of an historic champion of equality, a woman who spent her entire life, every ounce of her strength she was given in pursuit of america's highest ideal -- equal justice under the law. a jewish teaching says that those who die just before the jewish new year are those whom god has held back until the last moment because they were most needed on earth. so it seems fitting that justice ruth bader ginsburg left this world as the sun was setting last friday, marking the start of rosh hassana. years ago she made history as only the second woman to serve on the supreme court. even at that time she had a earned an hen during place in american history. she has been called the thurgood marshall of the gender equality movement. as a lawyer and law professor she was the mastermind in the
1970's behind a legal strategy that finally began to dismantle an american legal system that treated women in many ways as second-class citizens. law professor david cole called her strategy radical incrementalism. it is hard today for many americans to imagine how deeply entrenched and how commonly accepted gender discrimination was in american law and american society. before ruth bader ginsburg began her lead crusade to make real for women the word carved above the doors of the u.s. supreme court -- equal justice under the law. the legal challenges she brought changed the way the world is for women and for all americans. before she began her legal crusade, women were treated by law differently than men. hundreds of state and federal laws and programs restricted what women could do. many jobs were legally closed to
women. many basic economic, so, and legal rights that we now take economic, social, and legal rights that we now take for granted were denied to women for no reason other than jenner did. before the victories achieved by ruth bader ginsburg, a woman often could not, on her own, buy a car, open a checking account, get a credit card, sign a lease, obtain a mortgage, buy real estate, open a business, or obtain a business loan. she needed a man to cosign. before ruth bader ginsburg, women could be and were barred from public institutions and excluded from professions. they could be demoted or fired if they became pregnant. in fact, ruth bader ginsburg herself was forced to accept a lower-paying job with the social security administration when she became pregnant at age 21 with her first child. her legal strategy was caution
and strategic. knowing that she needed to persuade mostly male judges, including an all-male supreme court, she chose cases that illustrated how gender discrimination could also harm men. she took up the case of a young widower whose wife died in childbirth. the man wanted to stay home to raise her son but was denied social security survivor's benefits because such benefits by law could only go to widows. decades later when that little boy, who was the subject of this case, grew up, justice ginsburg officiated at his wedding at the supreme court building. her goal was simple but compelling -- to make clear that the 14th amendment's promise of equal protection under the law covers women as well as men. as i said, it was not only women who benefited from her life's work. if you are a man who's been covered bid your wife's medical benefits, thank ruth bader ginsburg. if you are a man who's been able
to claim social security survivors benefits or name a woman as ex-he can could you at the of your state, thank ruth bader ginsburg. we have not erased all gender-based inuquality equality and ruth bader ginsburg knew that well. some of the other victories that she helped to achieve are nowent thered. some have been diminished outright. she knew that. her concern about these threats to hard-won rights was the basis for some of her most famous and fiery dissents and why this often quiet, soft-spoken woman took the nuke step many times of reading her dissents from the bench. she wanted us to understand what was at stake so we could join her in the fight. that's what she did in 2007 in the case of lilly ledbetter v. goodyear tire. the supreme court ruled 5-4 that a woman who was paid less than
her male coworkers for years doing exactly the same work could not sue her former employer for wage discrimination. the woman only learned about the pay gap after she retirement but a conservative majority then on the court ruled that she'd lost her chance at justice by failing to sue within six months of her first unequal paycheck. in dissent, justice ginsburg challenged congress to correct this injustice, and we d the very first law signed by president barack obama was the lilly ledbetter fair pay act of 2009. a framed copy of that signed law hung in justice ginsburg's supreme court chambers has a gift from president obama. he signed it with the folating inscription -- thanks for helping create a more equal and justice society. in her dissent in the 2013 voting rights case, shelby county v. holder, which gutted the heart of the voting rights act, justice ginsburg pointed
out the awful irony of the majority decision. she wrote that throwing out the need for jurisdiction with histories of voter suppression declared changes in her voting laws before elections because the laws had already worked was, quote, like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you're not getting wet. she was right. our democracy would be stronger today had just one more justice on the supreme court agreed with her. it's up to congress now to heed her warning by passing the john lewis voting rights advancements act which languishes on the desk of senator mcconnell. ruth bader ginsburg was a champion of workers' rights, of disability rights, lgbtq rights, and environmental justice, and she was a woman who believed deeply that part of america's greatness is the welcome and safety and opportunity that america has offered to immigrants and refugees formols of our history. like myself, justice ginsburg
was the child of an immigrant who came to this country, partly to flee religious persecution. my mother and her family left russian-occupied lithuania partly to escape anti-catholic persecution. her father, ginsburg's farmer, left odessa, russia, for new york when he was 13 to escape anti-jewish programs. her mother was born in new york four months after her father moved from austria. extended family members later died in the holocaust. justice ginsburg's mother was like my mother in another way -- they were both very intelligent women who were deny add full education because money was tight, because they lived in a time when expectations about women were so low. like my mother, celia ginsburg used to take her child to the public library where she would check out as many books as she could read.
she saved her pennies so that one day her daughter could get the college education she was never able to get herself. her mother dreamed that her bright, young daughter might grow up if she were lucky and worked really hard and become a high school history teacher. instead, ruth bader ginsburg grew up and changed history. she changed america forever. america is fundamentally different and fairer as a nation because of the vision and work of ruth bader ginsburg. i recalled over the weekend and repeated to my wife this amazing statistic that ruth bader ginsburg battled cancer five times over nearly 20 years and then, of course, lived through the death ten years ago of her beloved husband, marti. but she almost never missed a day on the bench. she worked through chemo, sickness, broken ribs and terrible pain. nevertheless, she persisted. i want to read you something she said many times.
i really like this. she said, what's the difference between a book keeper in new york's garment district and a supreme court justice? one generation. my own life bears witness, she said. the difference between the opportunities available to my mother and those afforded to me. ruth bader ginsburg did not simply take opportunities afforded to women. more than perhaps any american in history, she helped to create those opportunities. loretta and i offer our deepest condolences to her friends and family, help her daughter jane, her son james, her grandchildren and great-granddaughter. may her memory be a blessing and may her life be a guiding light for all of us. madam president, i ask consent that the next statement be placed in a separate part of the record. the presiding officer: without objection. mr. durbin: madam president, americans across the nation were shocked and deaf stated when --
devastated when they heard the news of justice ginsburg's passing. the gravity of that announcement hit hard, not because just the loss of a national icon; because of the sense of foreboding of what would happen next right here in this chamber. in the united states senate. the year 2020 has already brought us so much pain and anguish much the pandemic that is killed 200,000 americans, sickened over six million. devastating job losses and economic damage. a long overdue national reckoning over racial injustice. deadly wildfires, natural disasters destroying communities. and a president, sadly, who seeks to divide and inflame instead of uniting america and bringing us together in common purpose. justice ginsburg foresaw the tension that her absent from the court would -- her absence from the court would cause.
shortly before she passed away, justice ginsburg said, and i quote, my most fervent wish is that i will not be replaced until a new president is installed. unfortunately, justice ginsburg's last request is falling on deaf ears in the senate chamber. shortly after the news of her death, senator mcconnell announced that he would hold a supreme court vote this year. look at what senator mcconnell said himself. the date was february 13, 2016. justice antonin scalia had died. there was a vacancy on the supreme court. here's what senator mcconnell, then leader of the senate, said -- 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. the words of senator mitch mcconnell. that statement is very clear and unambiguous. and senator mcconnell made it 269 days before the presidential election. it is the so-called mcconnell rule. this was a firm precedent establishing that senate republicans would not consider a supreme court nominee in an election year. president barack obama sent the name of judge merrick garland from the d.c. circuit to the senate for a hearing and a vote. the treatment he received from the senate was disgraceful. senator mcconnell an announced he would not even give him the time of day nor meet with him in his office, and he admonished those republican senators who did. he was being -- merrick garland
was being shunned by senator mcconnell because of his rule, the mcconnell rule. no vacancy shall be filled until we have a new president. steadfast in his determination to show that this principle would prevail, he shunned merrick garland. well, it turns out that this rule of law, this mcconnell rule that guided the senate four years ago was not as sack -- sacrosanct as one might think. shortly after the news, a short time after the news of justice ginsburg's passing, he said, senator mcconnell said, quote, he president trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor
of the united states senate. in direct violation of his own statement four years ago, senator mcconnell said that within hours after the announcement of the death of justice ginsburg. and senator mcconnell made that statement, we were only 46 days from election. people in many states had already started casting their vote. senator mcconnell's justifications for breaking his own rule simply don't stand up to scrutiny, distinctions without any difference, and they have never stood up to common sense. senator mcconnell clearly said when he laid down the mcconnell rule on february 13, 2016, that the american people should have the last word, and that election year supreme court vacancies should be filled in the next presidential term. there were no caveats, no exceptions, no amendments. he stated it clearly in just a handful of words. now senator mcconnell claims that whether or not the american
people have a voice should depend on which party controls the senate. now his party controls the senate and his party has the president, and the rules, the so-called mcconnell rule that we were to live by apparently is being rejected by senator mcconnell himself. he says that what republicans did in 2016 was acceptable because the senate at that time was controlled by democrats -- pardon me -- by republicans and a different party in the white house that year. a distinction without a difference. why should the composition of the senate dictate whether or not the american people should have a voice in the selection of the next supreme court justice? you could just as easily point out that 2016 was different because we had a president, barack obama, who actually had won a popular vote, unlike the current president. should that fact resolve whether the american people get a voice in the court's future? either the american people do get an election year voice
regarding the future of the court or they don't. in 2016 senator mcconnell said they do. now he says they don't. it's a flip-flop, plain and simple, because it's to his personal political advantage to reverse this stated principle. and the republican effort to point to senator harry reid for changing the senate rules for for -- is that senator rereid was responding to obstruction of president obama's nominees and senator reid made a point of not changing the rule, the 60-vote requirement, when it came to supreme court nominations. it was senator mcconnell who did that in 2017. while senate rules do change from time to time, you certainly can't have rules that depend on whether it's a republican or democratic president or a republican or democratic senate. that's exactly what senator mcconnell is calling for. so here's what it comes down to.
in 2016, senator mcconnell said the people should get the voice through an upcoming election because that outcome at the moment was better for his republican agenda for controlling the court. in 2020, senator mcconnell reversed himself and said the people should not get a voice through the upcoming election because that outcome is better for the republicans today. let's be clear. this is not about rules or principle or comity. this is about raw partisan power. the hypocrisy is bad enough. what makes it worse is it's an hypocrisy which is so evident to the american people at this moment in our history. what is at stake here? is this just a matter of a battle of the giants in washington, the big shots screaming at one another in the news and through the media? or is there more to it? it turns out there's much more. let's start with health care.
this november the supreme court will hear arguments in a case in which the trump administration and republicans are arguing the affordable care act should be struck down in its entirety. 20 million americans have health insurance under the affordable care act, and every health insurance policy sold in america is subject to the law of the affordable care act. if the supreme court does what the trump administration and the republicans are asking it to do, 20 million americans could lose their health care coverage, 600,000 of them in my state of illinois. tens of millions of americans with preexisting conditions, including five million in illinois, would lose protections the affordable act currently gives them. six million americans remember, have been diagnosed with positive results from covid-19. many more, sadly, will be diagnosed in the years ahead. and they of course now must answer the question -- have you ever tested positive for covid-19? and if they answer it, they
will have a preexisting condition, which the insurance company used to jump on to either raise your premiums or to deny you coverage. and if the republicans have their way before the supreme court, young adults up to the age of 26 will no longer be able to stay on their parents' health insurance. hospitals, especially in rural areas, will see a significant loss of revenue from the elimination of medicaid expansion. at this moment in the middle of a raging pandemic, it is unimaginable the republicans are trying to wipe out the critical health care protections in the affordable care act, but that's what they're fighting for in the case before the supreme court. republicans were never able to repeal the affordable care act on the floor of the senate. i'll never forget that early morning vote. it was about 2:00 or 2:30 a.m. when john mccain came through those doors and stood right by that table, and as much as he could lift that right arm because it had been broken when he was a prisoner of war -- something which i honor him for and never will ridicule him
for -- he lifted that arm as much as he could and said no, no. and that no vote saved the affordable care act. why did he do it? he explained afterwards. republicans don't have an alternative. they don't have a substitute. they want to eliminate an obama bill, an obama law, and they have nothing to replace it with. it's still the case today. and the republicans are no longer fighting this battle on the floor of the senate. they're fighting it across the street in the supreme court building. so the deciding vote on the supreme court, is it important to america? for 20 million americans it is deadly important as to whether they have affordable quality health care. republicans were never able to repeal the affordable care act because of john mccain's courage. so republicans are now trying to accomplish in the supreme court what they couldn't accomplish on the floor of the senate. in fact, on many issues, when the republicans' party position
is not popular, republicans are trying to get the courts to do what they can't do leverages slay alternatively -- legislatively. issues like rolling back environmental protections, dictating what women can and cannot do with their own health, wiping gun safety laws off the books, deporting dreamers and undermining worker protections. the supreme court was created by the founders of our nation to be the arbiter of equal justice under the law, not as a tool for one party's political agenda. while the american people can smell a rat, they know when the game's rigged, they look at the mcconnell rule that he announced in 2016, and now they look at what these actually doing in 2020. they know this isn't on the level. sadly in many ways, senate majority leader mcconnell has broken the united states senate down in recent years, and i fear if we go down the path president trump and senator
mcconnell have set us on, the supreme court may end up broken too. it will only take four republican senators to stop this travesty. four. four republican senators can say, enough. we lived by the mcconnell rule four years ago. we publicly stated that it was the right thing to do then. we would be hypocrites to an extreme if we turn our back on it now. i hope, i just hope there will be four republican senators with the courage -- and it will take courage -- to say that. we should honor justice ginsburg's fervent last wish. let the american people have a voice in filling this vacancy. that's p what senator mcconnell insisted on 38 weeks before the election in 2016. that should also be our standard in 2020, six weeks before the election. there should be no confirmation before