Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the future of the Supreme Court
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Senator Kamala Harris on the U.S. Supreme Court in Raleigh, North Carolina
On Friday morning, I attended the memorial service of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the U.S. Capitol.
She was the first woman in our history to lie in state.
I sat a few feet away from her flag-draped casket to pay my respects.
It was somber and personal.
And it was an extraordinary moment for me — as I’m sure it was for you and millions of Americans, and people around the world who felt a connection with her.
It was sad because we lost a giant not only of the Court, but of American life.
It was a celebration.
Few people in our history have done more to change the lives of the American people than Ruth Bader Ginsburg did as a lawyer, an advocate, and a Supreme Court Justice.
And it was an inspiration and a call to each of us.
For each of us to be better, to stay in the fight — and stay committed to what motivated Justice Ginsburg the most.
That phrase etched in the marble of the United States Supreme Court: “Equal Justice Under Law.”
Justice Ginsburg came to her view of the law not from a textbook, but from life.
Her own life. She often told the story of how she had personally felt the sting of discrimination.
As a woman.
As the mother of a young child, trying to find work.
And so she committed her life step by step, case by case, law by law, to tear down the obstacles in the way of so many, especially women.
Now, we are about to undertake the task of finding her replacement on the United States Supreme Court.
Of course, it’s hard to say those words.
In truth, Ruth Bader Ginsburg cannot be replaced.
She was an original. A one of a kind.
She combined a steel spine with an ability to extend an open hand, never a closed fist.
She demonstrated you could both hold firm to your principles and still hear those with whom you disagree.
That is a lesson that should be ringing in our ears.
But it looks like this President and his party aren’t interested in hearing any lessons from Justice Ginsburg.
Already, the President and his Republicans have chosen to ignore Justice Ginsburg’s final wish — to hold off the nomination to replace her until after the next president is chosen.
A wish, by the way, shared by the American people.
And it’s not complicated.
The voters would simply like to have the opportunity to vote for their President before the Senate votes on a nominee.
That’s not too much to ask.
But President Trump and his party aren’t interested in hearing the will of the people.
In fact, my sense is they’re afraid of what they’re going to be told.
We are not even debating whether the Senate should hold hearings on a nominee in an election year.
We’re not in the middle of an election year.
We’re in the middle of an election.
An on-going election.
Almost a million Americans have already voted.
More will vote this week.
In just a few weeks, all Americans will have voted.
But President Trump and his party don’t care.
They just want to jam this nomination through as fast as they can.
It’s raw power.
But President Trump and his party are about to learn something.
They may think that it is they who have the power in this country.
But they don’t.
The American people have the power — you have the power.
And you can make it very clear, very soon how you feel about being cut out of this Supreme Court nomination.
Even worse, though, than the President and his party ignoring Justice Ginsburg’s final wish — is their determination to appoint a Justice who will undo her life’s work.
Let’s be clear. The Supreme Court will impact our lives in three critical ways.
First, President Trump and his party have made it clear they will pick a justice who will get rid of the Affordable Care Act.
And, in fact, just days after the election the court will hear a case that could strike down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety.
It’s a decision that could take away health care for 20 million Americans.
It is a decision that could take away protections for preexisting conditions for more than 100 million people in our country.
It’s a decision that could take away Medicare benefits for seniors.
It is a decision that could toss out the rule that says children can be covered on their parents’ health care up to the age of 26.
All of that will hurt the millions of Americans who have come to rely on the Affordable Care Act.
And what is especially offensive about what President Trump and his party are up to is this.
Getting rid of the Affordable Care Act will take us backward to a time when you could charge a woman more for her health care than you can charge a man — just because she’s a woman.
Getting rid of the Affordable Care Act will take us backward to a time when pregnancy could be considered a pre-existing condition.
Getting rid of the Affordable Care Act will take away birth control and contraceptive coverage for women.
And get this.
This relentless obsession with overturning the Affordable Care Act — driven entirely by a blind rage toward President Obama — is happening at a moment when our country is suffering through the ravages of a pandemic that has claimed more than 200,000 lives.
Complications from COVID-19, like lung scarring and heart damage, could well become the next pre-existing condition.
In short, there are few things they could that would be more offensive to the legacy of Justice Ginsburg than to return us to the full-scale policies of discrimination in health care toward the women of our country.
But that’s what overturning the Affordable Care Act will do.
And overturning the Affordable Care Act is a way a nominee gets the support of this president and his party.
As Attorney General of California, I defended your right to health care.
As Senator, I voted to protect your right to health care.
But now President Trump has nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett. And we know where Judge Barrett stands on the Affordable Care Act.
Judge Barrett is on record opposing the decision that upheld the Affordable Care Act.
As recently as 2017, she specifically attacked the Chief Justice’s opinion in an article saying, quote: “Chief Justice Roberts pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.”
If nothing else, the voters should be very clear about one thing: President Trump and his party and Judge Barrett will overturn the Affordable Care Act.
And they won’t stop there.
They have made clear that they want to overturn Roe v. Wade and restrict reproductive rights and freedoms.
Judge Barrett has a long record of opposing abortion and reproductive rights.
There is no other issue that so disrespects and dishonors the work of Justice Ginsburg’s life than undoing the seminal decision in the Court’s history that made it clear a woman has the right to control her own body.
But that’s where President Trump and his party and Judge Barrett are.
So let’s make it clear where we are.
Let’s vote for health care. Vote for the Affordable Care Act.
Vote as if your life, your choice, depends on it — because it does.
Make it clear to President Trump and to every Republican Senator that if they’re determined to get rid of your health care, you’ll be just as determined to vote them out.
And second, vote as if your right to vote depends on it — because it does.
In 2013, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act.
Soon after, numerous states, including Texas, North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi enacted discriminatory laws designed to suppress people’s right to vote, targeting people of color and students.
Justice Ginsburg wrote that the decision was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm.”
Right here in North Carolina a voter suppression law was described by a federal court as having “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision” to deny us the right to vote.
After the people of Florida voted to grant formerly incarcerated citizens the right to vote, Republican officials recently enacted a modern-day poll tax to make it harder for those citizens to exercise that very right — in this upcoming election.
And this modern-day poll tax was upheld by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals — in large part because of judges appointed by Donald Trump.
But he knows he can’t win if the people vote.
Donald Trump is weak.
So he is throwing up every roadblock he can to suppress the vote.
And we, the people, can’t let him get away with it.
Third, our ability to make a living, take care of our families, and dismantle systemic racism — well, that’s at stake, too.
For example, court decisions can determine your ability to earn a living wage, to receive equal pay for equal work, or collectively bargain for your rights at work.
With an extra vote on the Court, Donald Trump and his party will continue their attack on laws that keep our air clean and our food and water safe — and attack any legislation that addresses climate change.
They will also continue to divide us and ignore the systemic racism that still plagues our society.
Their decisions could fail to hold the actors in our criminal justice system accountable.
Victims of abuse of power by law enforcement could be less likely to succeed on their civil rights claims.
The due process rights of criminal defendants could be less likely to be vigorously enforced.
These are decisions that would upend Justice Ginsburg’s life’s work to uphold the basic civil rights of all Americans — regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or economic station.
Yes, she was part of our culture.
Yes, we wear those “Notorious RBG” t-shirts with a lot of pride.
But since she passed, there are parents reminding their children that she helped their lives in concrete yet immeasurable ways.
Because of her, they could get the job of their dreams, fight for equal pay for their work, marry the person they love, serve the country they love — and enjoy the full rights and privileges of citizenship that they deserve, free of discrimination.
And that legacy — her belief in all of us — is at stake.
The outcome of this election, more than any other in our lifetime, affects every part of your life and every branch of government — all at once with consequences that can last generations.
And all with a nation in crisis and at a crossroads.
A reckoning on racial injustice.
A changing climate.
A crisis with the nomination to the Supreme Court.
I know sometimes it feels like it’s all just too much for our country to take.
And that’s what they want you to believe.
They want you to feel tired.
To feel your fight doesn’t matter.
But we will not give up.
And we will not give in.
We won’t let the infection that President Trump has injected into the presidency and into Congress — that has paralyzed our politics and pitted Americans against each other — spread to the Supreme Court.
This election is about more than the presidency or the Senate or the Supreme Court.
It’s about our democracy.
And, as Joe Biden has said from the moment he entered this race, it’s about the soul of our nation.
Who we are.
What we stand for.
And maybe most importantly, who we want to be.
And that’s what I felt when I said goodbye to Justice Ginsburg.
She understood the soul of our nation.
And what is expected of each of us.
And that belief is especially resonant at a place like Shaw University, one of our nation’s first Black landmarks of higher learning, established just six months after the Civil War.
People born into bondage and brutality stood on this very ground as graduates and as scholars.
I stand here in Estey Hall — the country’s first university hall built to educate Black women.
A century later, and a few months after the Greensboro sit-ins, Ella Baker and fellow students at Shaw established the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee — that our dear John Lewis would one day lead.
I stand here, on their shoulders, and with all of you, as the nominee for Vice President of the United States.
I stand with Joe Biden who will be your next President.
I stand with Cal Cunningham who will be your next Senator from North Carolina.
And I stand with them and the American people, to fight for a Supreme Court Justice, who, like Justice Ginsburg, truly believes in “Equal Justice Under Law.”
May God bless Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
May God bless you all.
May God bless the United States of America.