Washington January 24, 2017 – Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today delivered remarks at a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as attorney general.
At the hearing she requested a delay of the Sessions vote to provide more time to review his record. Committee rules allow members to request that votes on nominees be delayed for up to one week after they are first listed on the committee’s agenda.
Senator Feinstein placed the nomination of Senator Sessions in the context of massive weekend marches around the globe:
“Many, many millions of Americans are deeply concerned about what the future will bring,” Feinstein said. “That’s a hallmark of what happened this past Saturday in the march. The least we can do is tell them that we’re being as careful as possible in who we place in charge of making these important decisions. For every woman and man who marched over the weekend, we owe it to them.”
Senator Feinstein’s full remarks follow:
“As the rules, Mr. Chairman, of the committee allow, and as we have done for most nominees during the last several Congresses, I’m asking that the vote for Senator Sessions be held over until next week.
And I’d like to take a few moments to explain why.
The attorney general, as we all know, is charged with enforcing our laws and Constitution. He must be vigilant, fair and even-handed.
The Department of Justice must be out front and strong. It must protect the rights of women and minorities. It must protect voting rights and all of our constitutional rights.
This nomination is a very big deal.
On Sunday, we received 188 pages of responses to questions submitted for the record following the Sessions hearing.
Our staff needs time to go through these answers and we need time to put them in context with what we know and what we’ve learned about Senator Sessions’s record.
In addition, we’ve been told that some members may have follow up questions they would like to submit.
And I also believe it’s important to reflect on this nomination in light of the demonstration we saw this weekend. What we saw, in my quarter of a century on this committee, was very unusual. On Saturday, there was a massive outpouring of hope and optimism.
At least a half-million people gathered in Washington. Some say as many as 800,000. In Los Angeles estimates were 750,000 people marching together, the largest demonstration in the last decade.
It was really unusual to see the diversity. Men and women came together. Families came. College students came. Children came. There were marches in blue states and red states, from Alaska to Mississippi and from South Dakota to Hawaii.
In fact, there were marches all around the world from Kenya to Milan and Auckland to Mexico City. Millions are estimated to have gathered.
I thought it was very unusual to see such large crowds and such sheer joy—no violence. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there were no arrests.
And it’s unusual to see this kind of dedication to the principles and values of this nation—hundreds of thousands of passionate individuals went to the streets to support women’s fundamental rights as well as equality for all.
On Saturday night, I happened to run in with some of the delegations. They were from Los Angeles, Colorado, Arizona, Connecticut and elsewhere. They just glowed. They shared an elation and commitment that actually I’ve never seen before. It was really palpable.
There’s no other way to say it: They want to have their voices heard. They want to ensure equality for all. And they want know what steps they can take to fully participate in what they see as the crowning glories of America.
Our country’s principles and values derive from our Constitution and laws. They are ensuring equal rights for all, upholding voting rights for all, demanding equal pay for equal work, maintaining worker’s rights and protecting our environment.
It is these principles, these values, that the attorney general must defend. He must be a zealous advocate for the American people—all of the American people.
The one question that several marchers asked me was, “What can I do?”
I told them they need to get out there, make their voices heard, call your members, state legislators and local officials. Organize. Run for office. Play a direct role in governance. Don’t wait for someone else to do it.
Now, let me talk about the women who were the majority in these marches. We have had to fight for everything we have won throughout history. Nothing has been easy.
It wasn’t until 1920—not even 100 years ago but more than 130 years after the Constitution was ratified—that women received the right to vote.
Women originally in this country could not own or inherit property. Women were often forbidden from getting an education. Women weren’t allowed to borrow money from a bank without their husbands cosigning the loan.
Not to mention it wasn’t until 1965, barely 50 years ago, when states could no longer ban married women from using contraception. And it wasn’t until 1972 that this fundamental right was extended to all women in two Supreme Court cases.
In fact, just looking at the history of this committee is incredibly telling. Since its inception there have only been five women to serve on the Judiciary Committee and 350 men.
Today two of those women, in addition to myself, are here. Senator Klobuchar from the great state of Minnesota, Senator Hirono from Hawaii. This is the most women that have ever been on this committee.
So our history in this march and in what we’re going to do on the attorney general is really very important. We still do not have equal pay for equal work. Studies vary, but we know women are paid only roughly 75 to 80 cents on a dollar.
A simple Equal Rights Amendment passed the Congress in 1972, was ratified by 35 states, but fell short of becoming part of the Constitution by just three states.
And here’s what it said: Equality under the law shall not be abridged on account of sex. Why? Women were serving different criminal sentences than men in many states. And so it goes on and on.
And, of course, a woman’s right to have control over her own body, her own reproductive system, continues to be under attack.
Not only are new restrictions put in place to limit women’s access to reproductive health care services, but outright bans are being passed across the country.
As I mentioned, women’s history has played out on this committee. I was elected to the Senate in 1992. It was known as the “Year of the Woman.” Some of my younger colleagues may not know the full context of that election, but for me, the Anita Hill hearings in 1991 are etched in my memory.
I remember a Senate Judiciary Committee—as a matter of fact I was watching the hearing from the airport in London, and I looked at the committee as it was panned and there was not a single woman.
I remember how they questioned her claims of workplace harassment. I remember thinking how a woman would never belittle someone who was brave enough to step forward and testify like Anita Hill did.
It was a shameful episode in the Senate, and I think it helped the “Year of the Woman” and getting women elected. It certainly played a role in Joe Biden inviting me to be the first woman on the Senate Judiciary Committee. That was nearly 25 years ago. Carol Moseley Braun joined me on the committee soon after. And today we have the three of us.
It’s a start, but it isn’t the finish.
We are charged with overseeing our constitutional rights, our federal laws, our nominees to the federal courts and our nominees to the Department of Justice.
Mr. Chairman, once again, we are being asked to evaluate the nomination of our next attorney general who is charged with enforcing the law and upholding the protections women have fought so hard to secure.
This nomination is critically important.
This committee must have enough time to fully consider Senator Sessions’s record, to evaluate his answers to our questions and to determine what kind of attorney general he will be, if confirmed.
Many, many millions of Americans are deeply concerned about what the future will bring. That’s a hallmark of what happened this past Saturday in the march. The least we can do is tell them that we’re being as careful as possible in who we place in charge of making these important decisions.
For every woman and man who marched over the weekend, we owe it to them. Thank you very much.”