April 06, 2022

Wyden Delivers Floor Speech in Support of Jackson Nomination

As Prepared for Delivery

Madam President, I’ve already announced that I will support Judge Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Judge Jackson’s character and her qualifications are unassailable, but that hasn’t stopped Senate Republicans from treating her disgracefully. Too often behavior in the hearings was simply shameful.

It doesn’t have to be this way and it wasn’t always this way. For example, even though I disagreed with him on plenty of issues, I voted for Chief Justice Roberts, and he was treated very fairly by Democrats. Serious questions were asked and answered. And there wasn’t anything resembling the over-the-line juvenile theatrics like that shown for Judge Jackson. Things changed when President Obama’s final nomination was stolen by the Republicans — when they refused to hold a hearing or consider the sitting president’s nominee on totally fabricated grounds.

Democrats are trying to maintain a laser-focus on legal questions and personal qualifications. Republicans launch a sideshow of disgusting personal attacks — and it should be noted they launched those attacks against somebody they voted for unanimously when she was nominated to a lower-level court.

The radicalization of the Supreme Court and Supreme Court nominations is poisonous to our democracy, but that’s exactly what was on display when Republicans attacked Judge Jackson in her hearings last month.

Let’s get something straight right here at the outset — Judge Jackson was squarely within the sentencing norm for cases involving child sexual abuse material. Senator Hawley smeared her anyway as going soft on predators. It was a gross and baseless accusation — more of a dog whistle to conspiracists than an attempt at honestly vetting a nominee. Even the National Review, nobody’s idea of a liberal publication, published a column that called his attack “meritless to the point of demagoguery.”

There’s a big and tragic difference between talking about protecting child victims and really doing the work. Far too many Republican members come down on the wrong side of that divide.

It’s true that the government and institutions at every level have failed to protect children from exploitation online. That failure has had a lot of causes. One is that the Justice Department — for reasons I will never understand — has consistently declined to put enough manpower and funding behind this cause. Another reason is that members of Congress talk a big game and then disappear when there’s serious legislation to protect children.

I’ve got a bill called the Invest in Child Safety Act. It would put billions of new dollars into tracking down child predators, prosecuting those monsters and protecting the children they target and abuse. It would also create a new executive branch position, a Senate-confirmed director, to raise the level of this work and strengthen our capacity for oversight in Congress.

Instead of supporting that legislation, which puts more law enforcement on the beat, Republicans spend their time going after Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Yet again, vulnerable children are being used as pawns by politicians to advance their agenda.

Child abuse and exploitation is too serious an issue for US Senators to cheapen it with baseless accusations and ill-conceived legislation. This is the absolute last subject on which members ought to be playing politics.

I want to address another issue that’s come up in this debate. It deals with the fundamental right to safe, legal abortion, and Republicans’ desire to obliterate that fundamental right by throwing out long-established law.

People understand how Republicans feel about Roe v. Wade. The Roberts Court has effectively overturned Roe already for millions and millions of people living in red states. They did it on the shadow docket by allowing an obviously unconstitutional bounty law in Texas to go into effect. Now states all over the country are passing similar laws — and in some cases they’re going even further to restrict the fundamental right of women to control their own bodies.

The fact is, this debate is not just about Roe. It is becoming commonplace for Republicans to say — right out in the open — that the Supreme Court ruled incorrectly in Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that affirmed the right of married people to use contraception.

Let me repeat that so that it’s perfectly clear what this is all about.

It’s not just about the right to a safe and legal abortion. 

This is also about rolling back the right to birth control.

Republicans are saying that the case that affirmed the right to use birth control was wrongly decided.

That’s what Senator Blackburn, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said ahead of the hearings on Judge Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court. It’s enough to leave you wondering, what year is this? What century is this?

Connecticut’s ban on contraception was based on a federal law from the 1870s — a law from a time when women’s rights were few. They couldn’t even vote.

For Connecticut to have that kind of law on the books in 1965 was a ridiculous infringement on the liberty and body autonomy of American women. Estelle Griswold, the women’s rights activist whose name is atop the case, once half-joked that the state would have to “put a gynecological table at the Greenwich toll station” to prevent women from going to New York to get the contraception they needed. But the history in Connecticut shows, as is often the case, this old restriction on personal liberty fell hardest on women without means, even when the law was badly out of date.

The Supreme Court ruled correctly when it struck down Connecticut’s law in 1965. To say otherwise is appalling and alarming. The Court recognized that the government ought to stay out of people’s private decisions about family planning. A few years later the Court correctly applied the Griswold precedent to single women, too. A year after that came Roe.

All these cases are linked. Put together, the attacks on Roe, and now Griswold, are about letting the government control when someone decides to start a family. It’s about rolling back over 80 years of basic human rights.

Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that in these debates over Roe, quote, “Also in the balance is a woman's autonomous charge of her full life's course … her ability to stand in relation to man, society, and the state as an independent, self-sustaining, equal citizen.”

When the Court upheld Roe in the 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the majority ruled that, “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”

If women can’t legally obtain birth control and they can’t legally obtain abortion care, they no longer have legal control over their bodies. The government does.

If women do not control their own bodies, they do not control their own lives. And if Americans do not control their own lives, they are not free and equal under the law.

Tossing out Roe — the way the Roberts Court effectively has — is already an act of judicial radicalism. Every Republican Supreme Court nominee swears up and down that they respect precedent, and they won’t legislate from the bench. Then they go and toss out Roe on the shadow docket.

For Republicans now to be going after Griswold is simply staggering — and dangerous. For Senators to be attacking this ruling fifty seven years after the case was decided is ridiculous.

It’s not just because the government ought to stay out of the exam room and the bedroom. It’s not just because birth control is a part of basic health regimens. It’s because women in America have an equal right to chart the course of their own lives, including if and when to be pregnant.

Republicans try to cover for the radicalism of their position on Roe and Griswold by saying it’s about states’ rights.

Wrong. If Republicans believed in states’ rights, they’d respect the right of Democratic states to pass gun safety laws. They’d respect the right of states to legalize marijuana. They’d respect the right of states to ensure we have clean air and water. But Republicans oppose all of those priorities, challenge those laws in federal court and undermine them in Congress.

It’s also important to consider these debates about reproductive freedom and women’s equality in the context of what’s happening in statehouses around the country. Republican legislatures are effectively banning abortion. They’re passing laws that do more to protect rapists than rape victims. They’re criminalizing abortion care in some cases, and in other cases they are criminalizing the act of helping women obtain the health care they need.

Some Republican state lawmakers are attempting to restrict freedom of movement by making it a crime to get abortion care in a state where providers are still operating. Some states want to make it impossible to obtain or use mifepristone to safely end pregnancies early. A Republican lawmaker in Missouri recently proposed forcing women to carry ectopic pregnancies to term, which is effectively a death sentence.

The bottom line is, what’s happening today, in 2022, is collectively the most extreme attack on reproductive health, freedom and equality in America I can remember. This is not just the same old debate over Roe and choice. State-level Republicans are already way beyond that point. For Republicans here in Congress to be going after Griswold — after birth control — is a shocking escalation.

American lives and liberty are at stake. Nothing less. Americans need to be prepared to fight for freedom and equality in the months and years ahead, and I will be right there with them.

In the meantime, I’m confident that Judge Jackson will make an outstanding Supreme Court Justice and a bulwark for the rights of women and all Americans. This is a truly historic confirmation — one that’s long overdue. I’ll be proud to give Judge Jackson my vote, and I urge all my colleagues to support her nomination as well. 

A video of Wyden’s floor remarks is here.


Press Contact

Ashley Schapitl (Wyden) 202-224-5244