Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) delivered the following opening statement at Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing:
Video of her remarks is available here.
“Less than one month ago, the nation lost one of our leading voices for equality: Ruth Bader Ginsburg left very big shoes to fill.
[Justice] Ginsburg loved the law and she loved this country. She worked all of her life to ensure that the opening words of our Constitution – ‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect union’ – included ALL the people, not just an elite few. She was a standard-bearer for justice.
Justice Ginsburg’s nomination was the first one that I participated in when I came to the Senate. It was a real thrill to be part of that crowded and celebratory hearing for someone who had broken down barriers and reopened doors and staunchly believed in a woman’s right to full equality and autonomy.
In filling [Justice] Ginsburg’s seat, the stakes are extraordinarily high for the American people – both in the short-term and for decades to come. Most importantly – health care coverage for millions of Americans is at stake with this nomination.
So over the course of these hearings, my colleagues and I will focus on that subject. We will examine the consequences if, and that’s a big if, the Republicans succeed in rushing this nomination through the Senate before the next president takes office.
But most importantly, in just a few weeks – on November 10 – the Supreme Court will hear hearings in Texas v. California – a case brought to strike down the ACA.
The president has promised to appoint justices who will vote to dismantle that law. As a candidate, he criticized the Supreme Court for upholding the law and said: ‘If I win the presidency, my judicial appointments will do the right thing unlike Bush’s appointee John Roberts on ObamaCare.’ And when he appointed Judge Barrett to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat, the president said that eliminating the Affordable Care Act would be ‘a big WIN for the USA.’
Judge Barrett, you’ve been critical of Chief Justice Roberts for his 5-4 opinion upholding the law, stating that Roberts ‘pushed the Affordable Care Act beyond its plausible meaning to save the statute.’
This well could mean that, if Judge Barrett is confirmed, Americans stand to lose the benefits that the ACA provides. So I hope you will clarify that in this hearing.
First, more than 130 million Americans with preexisting conditions like cancer, asthma or even COVID-19 could be denied coverage or charged more to obtain health insurance. This includes more than 16.8 million Californians with preexisting conditions. And we are just one state. But I think you should know how we feel.
Second, some 12 million working Americans are covered through the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. If the act is struck down, they lose their health care.
Third, the more than 2 million Americans under the age of 26 who are covered by their parents’ health insurance and they could lose that coverage.
Fourth, insurers could charge higher premiums for women simply because of their gender.
And fifth, women could lose access to critical preventive services and maternity care, including cancer screenings and well-woman visits.
Now, the bottom line is this: There have been 70 attempts to repeal the ACA. But clearly the effort to dismantle the law continues, and they are asking the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act.
This, I believe, will cause tremendous harm. Consider people like Krystyna Munro Garcia of my home state.
At age 60, Krystyna's eyesight started to fail because of cataracts. She had always struggled to obtain insurance because of pre-existing conditions, including c-sections and epilepsy. The cost of coverage – when it was even offered to her –averaged between $2,500 and $3,000 a month, far more than she and her husband could afford.
In 2010, she was able to obtain coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Within weeks, she was able to have cataract surgery. This saved her life.
Krystyna described her reaction when she was able to get coverage through the California Health Exchange following passage of the ACA: ‘It was like manna from heaven. I cried. After all these years of struggling to obtain coverage, I was able to get insurance through the California Exchange, no questions asked about my pre-existing conditions. The premium was worth $200 a month, as compared to the $2,500 to $3,000 monthly payments I would have to pay before the ACA – if I could even get an insurer to offer me coverage.’
As Krystyna further explained: ‘People just don’t understand what it was like – the incredible fear before the Affordable Care Act – having to worry about being able to cover medical expenses and not being able to find affordable insurance.’
We can’t afford to go back to those days when Americans could be denied coverage or charged exorbitant amounts. That’s what’s at stake for many of us, for America, with this nomination. And that’s why the questions we will ask and the views, hopefully, that you will share with us are so important.
We are now just 22 days from the election, Mr. Chairman. Voting is underway in more than 40 states. Senate Republicans are pressing forward ‘full speed ahead’ to consolidate a court that will carry their policies forward, with I hope some review of the will of the American people.
President Trump said last week said that he had ‘instructed my representatives to stop negotiation [over a COVID-19 relief package] until after the election’ and to ‘focus full time’ on confirming Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court.
When Justice Scalia died in February 2016, Senate Republicans refused to consider a replacement for his seat until after the election. At the time, Senator McConnell said: ‘The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice.’
When asked in October 2018 if Republicans intended to honor their own rule if an opening were to come up in 2020, Chairman Graham promised: ‘If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait till [after] the next election.’
Republicans should honor this word [and] their promise and let the American people be heard. Simply put, we should not be moving forward on this nomination – not until the election has ended and the next president has taken office.”