February 07, 2019

At Judiciary Meeting, Harris Speaks Out Against Nominees Who Are Outside the Mainstream

Full Video of Harris’ Remarks 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — At a Senate Judiciary Committee business executive meeting today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) delivered remarks expressing her concerns about the president’s nominees for the federal judiciary, many of whom hold views that outside the mainstream. Harris also urged her colleagues to conduct the committee’s work in a manner that will inspire confidence among the American people that the federal judiciary is committed to equal justice under the law. 

Key Points from Harris’ Remarks

  • If the American people believe that when they walk into a courtroom they are not going to receive a fair hearing, that they are going to receive an unbiased perspective from an officeholder of the court – in particular a judge or justice – then we cannot possibly do justice in our country. And for that reason, I am deeply concerned that today what we are seeing is this administration’s continued commitment to reshaping our courts for generations to come with nominees that are extreme and outside the mainstream.
  • These nominees have expressed views that are contrary to many of our foundational values of justice and equality. They have in many cases made very weak commitments to longstanding Supreme Court precedent or refused to make commitments at all. And many have made arguments well outside of the mainstream.
  • I would just argue that, let’s always be influenced and – as our guiding light – look at those words that are inscribed on the United States Supreme Court: “Equal justice under law.” And it is my hope, my prayer, and my wish that when we nominate and when we confirm justices and judges out of this committee that they are truly committed and that their experience and backgrounds evidence a commitment to “equal justice under law.”

 

Full remarks as delivered by Harris:

Mr. Chairman, I believe strongly – and I think we’ve heard that here from our colleagues – that the public’s perception of the fairness of our system of justice will have a direct impact on whether we actually do justice.

If the American people believe that when they walk into a courtroom they are not going to receive a fair hearing, that they are going to receive an unbiased perspective from an officeholder of the court – in particular a judge or justice – then we cannot possibly do justice in our country. And for that reason, I am deeply concerned that today what we are seeing is this administration’s continued commitment to reshaping our courts for generations to come with nominees that are extreme and outside the mainstream.

In just the first two years in this administration, the Senate has already confirmed 85 federal judges, including two Supreme Court justices. Today we are considering 44 more nominees to the federal courts. And if confirmed, they will represent one out of 20 lifetime appointed federal judges in the United States. And it’s not the number of judges that are being confirmed that concerns me as much as the number of extreme judges that are being confirmed. Because, let’s be clear – and my colleagues have mentioned – there are many that are deeply problematic. We are being asked, for example, to consider someone who has promoted discredited science and has claimed that Planned Parenthood kills over 150,000 women a year. And who when asked by this committee if Brown v. Board of Education was binding precedent answered, “I would respectfully not comment.”

We are being asked to consider a nominee to the Sixth Circuit and a nominee to the District of Utah who have consistently opposed LGBTQ rights. We have a nominee who fought to defend an Ohio law defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman. He argued that gays and lesbians are not a discreet and insular minority and that the Ohio law did not demonstrate animus toward the LGBTQ community.

And as it relates to another nominee, when I was Attorney General of California, he represented supporters of Proposition 8, which was a ballot measure to amend California’s constitution to explicitly deny same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry. When the courts struck down Proposition 8, this nominee moved to vacate the court’s decision on the grounds that the presiding judge was in a committed same-sex relationship and therefore his impartiality was in question.

And let’s recall years ago, when the courts of our land were considering civil rights cases, there had been similar types of arguments made against black justices serving on the court and questioning their ability to be unbiased in considering civil rights issues before them.

We are being asked to consider a nominee who has repeatedly advocated against Native American tribal sovereignty – a nominee to the Ninth Circuit seat in Washington who we are proceeding with despite the fact that both home-state senators, Senators Murray and Cantwell, have not given the traditional blue slip approval for his nomination.

We are being asked to consider a nominee to the Sixth Circuit who was intimately involved in the Department of Justice’s challenge to the Affordable Care Act, where the argument that was made was so outside the mainstream that Senator Lamar Alexander called it “as far-fetched as any I’ve heard.” And we are being asked to consider a nominee to the Eastern District of Texas who called for abolishing the Department of Education and declared the Environmental Protection Agency a “job killer” and marched, also, in anti-abortion rallies.

These nominees have expressed views that are contrary to many of our foundational values of justice and equality. They have in many cases made very weak commitments to longstanding Supreme Court precedent or refused to make commitments at all. And many have made arguments well outside of the mainstream.

For example, let’s look at in the Affordable Care Act case, a nominee who was involved in Texas v. United States. In that lawsuit from twenty Republican attorneys general and governors, a judge on the U.S. district court from the Northern District of TX struck down the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional. If upheld, this decision will result in an estimated 17 million Americans losing their health insurance, protections for pre-existing conditions could be eliminated, and seniors would pay more for prescription drugs. The decision has been appealed and, of course, there is some hope that it will be reversed, but it has been widely criticized – including by conservative legal scholars. One conservative newspaper editor described the decision as “an assault on the rule of law.” And just imagine how many more poorly reasoned and destructive rulings we will see if many of the ideologies we are considering today end up influencing decisions from the bench.

The decisions of our federal judges have a very real impact on the lives of Americans every day. This committee should be sure that when we are sending the names of nominees out of this committee, that we are doing it in a way that ensures that the American public will have confidence in our system of justice. And I would just argue that, let’s always be influenced and – as our guiding light – look at those words that are inscribed on the United States Supreme Court: “Equal justice under law.” And it is my hope, my prayer, and my wish that when we nominate and when we confirm justices and judges out of this committee that they are truly committed and that their experience and backgrounds evidence a commitment to “equal justice under law.”