Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during a Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties hearing on "Protecting the Right to Vote During the COVID-19 Pandemic:"
"Thank you, Chairman Cohen, and thanks to all of our witnesses for joining us today.
"I want to note that although this is our first remote hearing, the Committee has been hard at work since the outbreak of the pandemic. For example, we have held briefings and virtual roundtables to discuss issues such as price gouging during the COVID-19 crisis and the ways in which immigration authorities and prisons and jails are responding to the pandemic.
"These events all informed our efforts to include measures in the CARES Act and the HEROES Act in response to what we learned, such as more than $600 million to address the COVID-19 crisis in state and local prisons and jails, and minimum standards for individuals in ICE detention, as well as provisions to encourage release of individuals who do not pose a risk to public safety.
"Other vital measures that we worked hard to include in the HEROES Act are bankruptcy protection for homeowners and significant funding for such critical programs as the Violence Against Women Act and the Legal Services Corporation. We have also passed legislation to ensure that public safety officers who die or become disabled as a result of COVID-19 will receive the benefits that they and their families deserve.
"And next week, as I announced over the weekend, we will hold a hearing to address issues related to police accountability. Even when we are spread throughout the country, this Committee is hard at work, and I appreciate all the Members for their efforts during these challenging times.
"I would also like to acknowledge this profoundly painful moment for our nation. The wounds inflicted by centuries of racism and violence against black Americans have once again been torn open.
"And in response, thousands of Americans of all races have peacefully taken to the streets to exercise their constitutional rights and to demand change that is long overdue.
"We have a proud history of protests and demonstrations that have led to much-needed changes in public policy. But at the most basic level, we govern ourselves at the ballot box. Our leaders—from local sheriffs and prosecutors to Members of Congress and our President—are supposed to be chosen by popular will. That is what makes us a democracy. It is at the very core of self-governance by the people.
"But our democracy will face a profound test this November. In the face of this global pandemic, we can no longer tolerate 'business as usual' in our polling places. In fact, business as usual was already intolerable. The hours-long lines, purges of voter rolls, and red tape designed to suppress Americans’ right to vote all strike at the heart of our system of self-government.
"Now these hurdles might even be deadly. And they raise the frightening and unavoidable question of whether we will even be able to call ourselves a democracy at all.
"If that sounds alarmist, consider this: What is a system of government that deliberately winnows out voters because of their race, or their income, or their disability, or because of where they live? What is a system of government in which politicians play games to keep away eligible voters who might threaten their hold on power? It is not a democracy. It is something else.
"And what is a government that makes its citizens choose between exercising their most fundamental constitutional right—the right to vote—and their basic human right to health and safety?
"So I would like to say directly to the American people: There is no sitting this out. Your elected representatives are either for our democracy or against it. We do not deserve that title if we deny you the right to cast your ballots this November—or if we force you to choose between exercising that right and protecting your own health.
"That is why I support mandating that all states provide voters with the option to vote by mail this November and I support providing the necessary federal resources to ensure that this happens smoothly. We also must preserve in-person voting options for those who choose not to vote by mail or are unable to do so, so that no one is disenfranchised.
"We can rise to meet today’s unprecedented challenges and carry out free and fair elections in November. As Chairman Cohen said, we know what needs to be done. But it will not happen without our focus and vigilance. Today’s hearing is the first step in that process.
"I thank Chairman Cohen for holding this hearing and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses. I yield back the balance of my time."