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Durbin: Supreme Court's Latest Term Has Upended Our Constitutional Landscape

Durbin argues that the Court's radical conservative supermajority's decisions will immunize presidents who commit crimes and make it easier for corporate special interests to overturn federal protections that Americans need to remain safe and healthy

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today spoke about the Supreme Court’s recently finished term and its series of disastrous decisions that once again have upended our constitutional landscape.

“The Court’s radical conservative supermajority discarded decades of longstanding precedent to protect rich and powerful interests. The Court’s decisions will immunize presidents who commit crimes… make it harder to prosecute corrupt politicians, and make it easier for corporate special interests to overturn federal protections that Americans need to remain safe and healthy,” Durbin said. “The far-right justices responsible for these decisions may claim they are guided by ‘textualism’ or ‘originalism,’ but the reality is that they’re engaged in judicial activism, pure and simple. The justices are cherry-picking their way through constitutional text and history to impose their own ideological agenda on the American people. And in doing so, the majority has not only further damaged the Court’s institutional integrity, they have undermined our democracy.”

Durbin then discussed the Court’s rulings in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce. In these cases, the Court overruled Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, a landmark 40-year-old decision holding that courts must provide deference to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of ambiguous federal statutes.

“With authorization from Congress, scientists, engineers, and other experts at these agencies use their expertise to establish rules that help to ensure our food is safe and medications are effective as promised, we have clean air and water, stable financial markets, fair working conditions, and more,” Durbin said. “But after the Court’s decision to overrule Chevron, unelected judges with no expertise will be empowered to overturn rules issued by agency experts when they are challenged by corporations.”

Durbin then discussed the Court’s ruling in Trump v. United States, which ruled that a president may be immune from criminal prosecution for abusing the levers of government for personal or political gain. In this decision, the Court also ruled that Donald Trump is “absolutely immune from prosecution for the alleged conduct involving his discussions with Justice Department officials,” and it limited the evidence that may be used against a president when investigating acts not presumptively immune.

“So what does all this mean? It means that a corrupt president may hide behind their office for protection from prosecution under the law for even the most egregious wrongdoing. It means the Supreme Court’s conservative majority has effectively endorsed Richard Nixon’s infamous claim that ‘when the president does it … that means that it is not illegal.’ In fact, much of the conduct at the heart of Nixon’s Watergate scandal could arguably be considered official acts, making them presumptively immune under current interpretation,” said Durbin. “And in the aftermath of Trump v. United States, a court would not even have been allowed to question Nixon’s motives in order to determine whether he acted unlawfully.”

Durbin continued, “The Court’s ruling has also left Congress and the judicial branch with limited options when dealing with a delusional or corrupt executive. The Minority Leader stated during the second Trump impeachment trial: ‘We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation, and former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.’ Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, because the Court’s conservative majority has demolished the ability to hold any president accountable for abuses of power.”

Durbin concluded, “It was not long ago that then-Judge Roberts sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee and told me directly and personally that ‘no man is above the law.’ Then-Judge Gorsuch also testified: ‘Nobody is above the law in this country.’ And then-Judge Kavanaugh told the Committee: ‘No one is above the law. And that is just such a foundational principle of the Constitution and equal justice under law.’ But now, they seem to think that a corrupt president is, in fact, above the law. When the American people head to the polls this November, they should keep this case, Trump v. United States, in mind.  We must ensure that our next leader is a person who will respect the rule of law even though he is now—because of this Supreme Court decision—immune from prosecution.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.