Klobuchar: “When the stakes are this high, I urge my colleagues to grant what Justice Ginsburg described as her most fervent wish, that she will not be replaced, she said, until a new president is installed.”
WASHINGTON — On the Senate Floor, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) spoke in honor of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and called on her colleagues to honor Justice Ginsburg’s wish not to fill her seat until the American people have voted.
“She was a trailblazer who exceeded all expectations. And through her example, helped young people, young women across this country believe that anything and everything is possible. And it's my hope that this chamber can follow in her footsteps and exceed expectations when it comes to this precious democracy that we are supposed to hold and that we are supposed to take care of,” Klobuchar said in her remarks.
Klobuchar is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over Supreme Court nominations. Prior to her time in the Senate, Klobuchar served as Hennepin County Attorney.
Earlier today, in her role as Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee, Klobuchar announced that her resolution honoring Ginsburg passed the Senate. The resolution provides use of the Lincoln catafalque for the memorial services honoring the late Justice Ginsburg. This week, Speaker Pelosi announced that Justice Ginsburg will lie in state in Statuary Hall. Justice Ginsberg will be the first woman and first Jewish person to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol and only the second Supreme Court Justice to receive this honor in our nation’s history.
Transcript of remarks as delivered below and video available HERE.
Madame President, I rise today to join my colleagues in celebrating the life and legacy of a hero, an icon, and a woman way ahead of her time, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was a trailblazer who exceeded all expectations, and through her example, helped young people, young women across this country, believe that anything and everything is possible. And it's my hope that this chamber can follow in her footsteps and exceed expectations when it comes to this precious democracy that we are supposed to hold and that we are supposed to take care of.
You know, a few years back my daughter Abigail and I got to see Justice Ginsburg. And I had met her a few times. But we were at an event and we had our photo taken with her. Now, as you know, Abigail was in her early 20's and Justice Ginsburg had become a cult figure at that point in her 80's, something we all aspire to, to the point where she had her own hashtag. So we had our photo taken, the three of us. And afterward my daughter came up and says mom, I got a photo with the notorious R.B.G. and I’m going to put it on my Facebook page but mom I hope you don't mind, I'm going to cut you out. I just want one with R.B.G. up there.
Justice Ginsburg literally made justice cool for a lot of young people out there. And that legacy, that legacy with all the people, the outpouring of love and support you see at the courthouse, that continues.
When people told Justice Ginsburg that she shouldn't go to law school because she was a woman, what did she do? She went to Harvard, became the first woman to work on the Harvard Law Review, and then went on to graduate from Columbia at the top of her class.
As has been recounted many times, she literally was called before the Dean of the Harvard Law School along with the other eight other women who were in that class, of all those men, and asked why they would be taking the seat of a man. But that didn't stop her. Nothing stopped her.
When law firms in New York wouldn't hire her because she was a young mother, what did she do? She became one of only two female law professors at Rutgers University where she then writes the brief that led the Supreme Court to decide for the first time that the 14th Amendment of the Constitution should protect against laws that treat people differently, solely on the basis of sex.
When they told her, despite her expertise and novel theories of how to advance Equal Protection, when they told her that she shouldn't argue Equal Protection cases before the Supreme Court, that maybe the chances would be better if a man would do it - what did she do? She argued six cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and leaves with five out of six victories.
But she didn't stop there. She was nominated as the second woman ever to serve on the Supreme Court, after Sandra Day O'Connor. She was confirmed in the Senate by a vote of 96-3. She served on the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, for 27 years, standing up for equality and justice. And as I noted, she became an international icon well into her 80's. She did all that by never giving up.
And to me that has inspired me, as we deal with what is in front of us right now, with this assault on our democracy. When the odds don't look that good, you never give up.
One of her important majority opinions on the court built on her work on Equal Protection as a young attorney. In United States v. Virginia, Justice Ginsburg wrote for a seven-one majority that struck down the male-only admissions policy at the Virginia Military Institute. So she not only wrote the opinion, she got a number of Republican appointed justices to join her. When she announced the opinion in Court, she said the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment prohibits any “law or official policy that denies to women simply because they are women equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in, and contribute to society.”
That opinion was joined in by Justices, as I noted, including Chief Justice Rehnquist, Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice Kennedy. It was an example of the principle that guided Justice Ginsburg in her words to “fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
But she was also known for the opinion she wrote in dissent and not only because she would wear what was sometimes fondly called her dissent collar when the opinion was announced in court.
In Shelby v. Holder, a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court unfortunately struck down important parts of the Voting Rights Act that required jurisdictions with histories of racially motivated voter suppression to seek court or Department of Justice approval before changing voting laws, a process known as preclearance. Justice Ginsburg authored the dissent, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan arguing famously that, “throwing out preclearance when it that is worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
After she finished reading her dissent in court, she quoted Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice” and adding her own caveat that it bends towards justice only, “if there is a steadfast commitment to see this task through to completion.”
To see the task through to completion. That's part of our job, as stewards of this democracy. We may not see it through to completion, but the least we should do is do no harm. And the most we should do is to make it better. That's what she stood for, and that's what I hope my colleagues will consider in the weeks to come.
As we gather here tonight, we must also recognize that Justice Ginsburg's work, as I noted, is still unfinished. Many of the values she fought for - equality, justice - are still at stake. The Supreme Court will continue to make decisions about equal rights for women, LGBTQ equality, access to clean air and clean water, fair elections, and workers' rights. And just one week after the upcoming election, the Court will hear arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which could put coverage for people with preexisting conditions at risk. That's what that court down there in Texas held. People's health care is literally on the line.
If the Affordable Care Act is struck down, over 20 million Americans across the country could lose their health insurance right in the middle of this pandemic because there wouldn't be a requirement in place to protect them from being thrown off their insurance.
When the stakes are this high, I urge my colleagues to grant what Justice Ginsburg described as her most fervent wish - that she will not be replaced, she said, until a new president is installed. That's her dying words. And of course she used a word like fervent, because that's how she approached her life and her work. At its core, Justice Ginsburg's wish is about fairness. It is about what is right and what is just.
Four years ago leader McConnell created a new rule for Supreme Court nominations. He refused to consider President Obama's nomination, as is known -- well-known -- of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court because the country was nine months from an election. And in his words, “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.”
So here we are, 42 days until the presidential election and people have already started voting. They are voting in my state not only by mail, as we speak, but also in person at early voting places all across our state. It is our Republican colleagues that set that precedent, and now they must follow it.
Tonight, I urge my colleagues not to fill this vacancy until the American people have voted. People are deciding right now who should be president. If you go back in history, the only time a Justice died this close to the election was during the time of Abraham Lincoln, when Justice Taney died, who was sadly, infamously known for writing the Dred Scott opinion. But he died the closest to an election of anyone until Justice Ginsburg. And what did Abraham Lincoln do? He waited until after the election -- until after he saw if he won, until after he knew what the makeup of the Senate was. He didn't do it now, because he was a wise, wise man. Because his interests, as we know, was to bring our country together and to do everything he could in his power to stop the divide and to have -- be one nation under God.
My colleagues will have to decide what to do based on really their own integrity, their own commitment to justice. As Justice Ginsburg demonstrated, lawyers fight for justice. If you lived and breathed that fight, like Justice Ginsburg did her entire career. That's our job, too, to fight for justice. But we have an even more extraordinary burden. And that is also uphold this democracy and to keep this country together. Justice Ginsburg did it in her own ways, in her own life, despite having incredibly different opinions about the law, as Justice Scalia. They were true friends. And she was able to work with him. Well, we need to see more of that here.
It doesn't mean that we have to agree on who the next president is. It doesn't mean that we even have to agree on who the next Justice is. But our jobs to maintain civility in this country, to bridge that divide, to bring people together, is to simply let the people decide.
I think it is because of that unique characteristic she had of being a fighter, of being a hero, of taking risks, of never giving up but of also doing it in a way where people could feel like they knew her, even people that disagreed with her, including in this institution, respected her. Well now the eyes are on this place, and it's our job to earn the respect of the American people. And the reason that we have seen so many people expressing their grief at the steps of the Supreme Court and across the country is because of that respect.
Justice Ginsburg opened doors for women at a time when so many insisted on keeping them shut. And on the Supreme Court, time and time again, she made the case for justice.
For a woman of so many firsts, it is fitting that this coming Friday she will be the first woman to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. So let's remember her fight, her legacy, and her fervent wish, all of which were about securing equality, fairness, and justice for every person in our country. Thank you, I yield the floor.