WASHINGTON — Hawaii senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono yearned for years gone by as they made their final pitch to block Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The speeches came hours before the Senate voted 52-48 to confirm Barrett as the nation’s newest member of the high court. She is the third person nominated by President Trump in his first term in office.
Schatz took to the Senate floor Monday just after 2 a.m. to eulogize what he and others have long described as the “greatest deliberative body in the world.”
He said Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have all but buried that reputation by rushing to confirm Barrett in the midst of a presidential election in which millions of voters have already cast ballots.
Hawaii’s senior senator evoked the name of Merrick Garland, who was President Barack Obama’s nominee in March 2016 to replace Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died the month before. McConnell and the Republicans in control of the Senate refused to even give Garland a hearing and instead said it should be up to the voters to decide the fate of the court in November.
“This is the most rank hypocrisy I’ve ever seen in anything politically, and it’s one of the most important things that I’ve ever seen,” Schatz said. “And so it’s not a trivial thing that you held up Merrick Garland.”
“We’re just a little factory that approves federal judges and that’s how Mitch McConnell wants it.” — U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz
Schatz castigated his Republican counterparts who said they would support whoever President Donald Trump nominated to the Supreme Court to replace Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. He said such tacit approval of a nominee “sight unseen” was an abdication of their duties as senators to vet a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.
“If you don’t believe in the importance of the legislative branch, don’t be a legislator,” Schatz said.
The frustration in Schatz’s voice carried over into his hands as he occasionally struck the podium. He began his speech by reading off the names of people who had died during the COVID-19 pandemic, and later pointed out that McConnell was blocking legislation to provide more economic relief to Americans struggling to stay afloat.
“We’re not the world’s greatest deliberative body,” Schatz said. “We’re just a little factory that approves federal judges and that’s how Mitch McConnell wants it.”
In her opposition to Barrett, Hirono evoked the legacy of Patsy Mink, the late U.S. representative from Hawaii who in 1964 became the first woman of color ever elected to Congress.
In 1970, when then President Richard Nixon, nominated a southern judge, G. Harrold Carswell, to the U.S. Supreme Court, Mink opposed his nomination before the Senate Judiciary Committee, telling the panel in no uncertain terms that “his appointment constitutes an affront to the women of America.”
Hirono recounted how Mink’s testimony focused on the case of Ida Phillips, a woman who was denied a factory job because she was the mother of preschool aged children.
Although no such rule applied to fathers with young children, Carswell and his 10 colleagues on the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hear Phillips’ case.
Mink told the Judiciary Committee that Carswell “demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the concept of equality” and that his vote on the Supreme Court “represented a vote against the right of women to be treated equally and fairly under the law.”
When Marlow Cook, a Republican senator from Kentucky, came to Carswell’s defense by pointing out 10 other judges also refused to hear the case, Mink responded by telling him that “the other nine others are not up for appointment to the Supreme Court.”
“Patsy understood the critical role the Supreme Court plays in the lives of every American,” Hirono said. “She pointed out to the committee that ‘the Supreme Court is the final guardian of our human rights. We must rely totally upon its membership to sustain the basic values of our society.’”
Mink’s testimony helped sink Carswell’s nomination and ultimately paved the way for Nixon to appoint Harry Blackmun, who later would write the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.
Hirono said the example of Mink, Carswell and Blackmun underscores how a single vote on the Supreme Court can make a difference.
“Our nation finds itself at a similar judicial crossroads today as we debate whether Judge Amy Coney Barrett should replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court,” Hirono said.
“We can choose to protect equality for women, health care for millions, and other ‘basic values of our society.’ Or, we can choose a justice selected to do precisely the opposite: strike down the Affordable Care Act, overturn Roe v. Wade and continue to decide cases like her conservative mentor Justice Antonin Scalia.”
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