January 13, 2020

Ahead of Impeachment Trial, Harris Delivers Speech on Fight for the Integrity of the American System of Justice

Click here to download Harris’ remarks

 Click here to view Harris’ remarks (Video begins at 18:35) 

WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Monday delivered remarks on the floor of the United States Senate as the Senate prepared to receive articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. I n the speech, Harris laid out her view of the Senate’s duty to ensure the integrity of the American system of justice, as well as her commitment to ensuring that nobody—including the president—is above the law.

Key excerpts from Harris’ remarks:

 

  • We now face a choice: will we insist that we have one system of justice that applies equally to all? Or will we continue to have two systems of justice, in which some are above the law? […] This moment in our history will have consequences. The Senate is charged with deciding whether the President of the United States, with all of his power and supposed wealth, will be held accountable for his actions – or whether we will finally live up to the principle: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’

  • There is no question that President Trump’s misconduct has left a vacuum of leadership in our country, and the American people are looking to the United States Senate to demonstrate that their leaders are worthy of the public’s trust. The American people should expect their representatives in the Senate to seek the truth, not cover up the facts.

  • In that ongoing fight, we in the United States Senate must agree that we cannot speak about the ideals of equality and justice and then act in ways that violate those very principles. It is our duty both as senators and proud Americans to protect the Constitution, earn the people’s trust, and prove to the American people that it is still within the power of the United States Congress to hold the president accountable.

Full transcript of Harris’ remarks:

Just across the street from where I stand today sits the United States Supreme Court. That building has four words etched in marble above its entrance: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’

The promise of those four words is that in our country, our system of justice must treat everyone equally, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, or socioeconomic status.

But too many people in our country grow up knowing and experiencing that in America we have two systems of justice: one in which certain people are held accountable, and another in which powerful people like Donald Trump escape accountability altogether.

This has been true from the first days of our nation’s history, when a group of men gathered in Philadelphia to debate lofty notions of justice and equality, yet produced a document that literally counted Black Americans as fractions of a person. 

In the Declaration of Independence, we were told that ‘All men are created equal’ — but we know that in our nation’s founding, at that time the policy of our nation was to rob indigenous people of their land and their livelihood and to exclude women from the right to vote.

So, to make true the promise of America and move us toward that more perfect union, people have organized, fought, and marched for justice. From the suffragettes to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., those fights have won us progress towards a more just and inclusive nation.

But clearly there is still more work to be done to achieve ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’

When the determination of whether you sit in jail before trial is too often based on the size of your bank account rather than the size of your crime, we have not yet achieved ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’

There is more work to be done when young people selling drugs on the corner too often become felons for life while white collar criminals face no accountability.

There is more work to be done when regarding the sexual assault of women, the current president has said, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.’

There is work to be done when the American people know that the rules aren’t equally enforced against powerful people. Unless we acknowledge these truths, too many Americans will remain distrustful of our institutions and cynical about our government and our leaders.

And this is the point, my colleagues. We now face a choice: will we insist that we have one system of justice that applies equally to all? Or will we continue to have two systems of justice, in which some are above the law?

Later this week, the Senate will likely begin the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. This moment in our history will have consequences. The Senate is charged with deciding whether the President of the United States, with all of his power and supposed wealth, will be held accountable for his actions – and whether we will finally live up to the principle: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’

This is why I speak to you today, fully aware that I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me in our nation’s ongoing fight for equality.

I speak because I was raised by people who spent most of their lives demanding justice in the face of racism, misogyny, bigotry, and inequality.

I speak because I have dedicated my entire career to upholding the rule of law and bringing integrity to our system of justice.

I speak to ensure that everyone in California and throughout our country can enjoy the rights and freedoms guaranteed to them by the United States Constitution.

And as a United States Senator, I speak fully prepared to uphold my solemn oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws,” and to affirm that my first obligation is to serve the people of the United States. All the people.

I hope my colleagues can agree that our nation’s founders had the foresight to create a system of checks and balances that anticipated the need to remove a president who might yield to foreign influence or use the presidency for personal power and benefit. 

Our founders feared that a day like this might come, and so they empowered the United States Congress with the tool of impeachment to hold a lawless president accountable.

And so this week, after months of investigation, sworn testimony, public hearings, and debate, the House of Representatives will likely send to the United States Senate two articles of impeachment. These articles charge President Trump with abusing his power for his personal and political gain and with obstructing Congress’s efforts to investigate his misconduct.

In this trial, the United States Senate must not only consider the charges against the president, but also conduct itself in a way that demonstrates to the American people that in our system of justice, no one is above the law.

Each senator must exhibit the kind of moral and ethical leadership that this president abandoned when he pressured a foreign nation to interfere in our elections.

There is no question that President Trump’s misconduct has left a vacuum of leadership in our country, and the American people are therefore looking to the United States Senate to demonstrate that their leaders are worthy of the public’s trust.

The American people should expect their senators to seek the truth, and not cover up the facts.

So let us honor our oath to defend the Constitution by doing the job the American people have entrusted to us.

Let us ensure that this trial is a search for truth and that we follow the facts where they lead and come to a verdict based on all of the available evidence.

Let us do our jobs and insist that we hear from Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton, and anyone with firsthand knowledge of the president’s misconduct.

Let us demand that the White House turn over additional emails and documents that shed light on the president’s motives for withholding military aid from Ukraine.

And let us be clear—an order from this president to block evidence or witness testimony will itself be further evidence of his efforts to obstruct the United States Congress.

The importance of this moment in our history cannot be overstated. What we do in this trial will show the world who we are as a country.

Our answer will also send a message to future presidents of the United States about the kind of conduct that is acceptable from the leader of our nation.

As the United States Senate, we must say that it’s unacceptable for a president to shake down a vulnerable foreign nation for personal or political benefit.

We must say, with one voice, that no president can disregard the legitimate oversight authority of the United States Congress.

And we must say, as leaders of the United States of America, that in our system of justice everyone will be held accountable for their actions—including the president of the United States.

And my final point: years from now, people are going to judge whether we rose to the solemn occasion that is the impeachment trial of the president of the United States.

And we cannot be passive in this moment. I am mindful of Coretta Scott King’s words that “freedom is never really won—you earn it and win it with each generation.”

It is incumbent on this generation to fight for a system of justice in which all are treated equally.

And in that ongoing fight, we in the United States Senate must agree that we cannot speak about the ideals of equality and justice and then act in ways that violate those very principles.

It is our duty both as senators and as proud Americans to protect the Constitution, to earn the people’s trust, and prove to the American people that it is still within power of the United States Congress to hold the president accountable. 

History is watching. Our actions here will shape this body’s legacy.

So I urge my colleagues to have the courage, the foresight, and the patriotism to act in the interest of our nation and its people. I urge my colleagues to fight for one system of justice in the United States of America and to ensure that no one is above the law.

I urge my colleagues to reaffirm the most basic of American principles: that ours is not the government of one man, but a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

###