VIDEO: Padilla Questions Monaco, Gupta At Judiciary Confirmation Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) questioned Lisa Monaco and Vanita Gupta during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on their respective nominations to be Deputy Attorney General and Associate Attorney General. Padilla asked the nominees about their commitment to expanding voting rights and ensuring every eligible American can vote freely and safely. Padilla also asked the nominees about pursuing environmental justice, pointing to California’s leadership in working to combat the climate crisis. 

WATCH: Full Video of Padilla’s Questioning

The full transcript of Padilla’s questioning can be found below:

PADILLA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good afternoon to the both of you and I to thank you for your willingness to continue to serve. Some of my colleagues have already touched on the general issue of voting rights, whether it’s H.R. 1, the need to restore the teeth to the federal Voting Rights Act, but I want to revisit that for a minute.

This past Sunday was the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, as you two are aware, a day that 56 years ago when state and local police attacked peaceful demonstrators in Selma, Alabama as they were seeking to march to Montgomery in protest of Jim Crow laws that denied Black women and men the right to vote. We’ve come a long way in many ways since Bloody Sunday, but as we know all too well, we still have a long way to go to ensure complete access to the ballot for all eligible Americans. 

Indeed, in just the first two months of this calendar year, legislators in 43 states have already proposed more than 250 bills that if enacted would have the net effect of making it harder for eligible citizens to register or stay registered, or to cast their ballots. The Justice Department clearly has a critical role to play in ensuring that our elections continue to be fair and free. But it’s ability to do so has been hampered by the Shelby v. Holder decision by the Supreme Court in 2013. 

So, my first question is, both for Ms. Monaco and Ms. Gupta, how do you envision reinvigorating the civil rights division generally and specifically its voting rights section to defend all Americans’ right to vote?

MONACO: Well Senator, the Justice Department’s founding creation was really about, as Ms. Gupta has talked about and as Judge Garland has described, was about enforcing civil rights of individuals, of Black Americans, in the early part of the 19th century and, sorry, the 20th century. And it is a priority of the department that Judge Garland has already talked about and President Biden has talked about to reinvigorate the Civil Rights Division, to do everything we can to enforce and make clear that all individuals who are eligible to vote need to be able to do so freely, free from harassment, free from impediment, and that will be a priority of the department. 

If I’m confirmed as Deputy Attorney General, I would look to the leadership of Ms. Gupta in the first instance as Associate Attorney General with direct oversight of the civil rights division and the other portions of the department under her portfolio. And I have no doubt having seen already her leadership in that regard that she’s more than up to the task to do that reinvigoration.

GUPTA: Thank you, Senator. As you know I have spent my career working on these issues of voting rights access and it is something that, if confirmed, I believe the civil rights division needs to use every tool at its disposal to ensure that every eligible American is able to exercise their right to vote. And it is something that I know, if confirmed, I would make a top priority, but I also, I know that Judge Garland if he is confirmed as Attorney General knows that is his top priority as well as we’ve just heard from Ms. Monaco. And so, I have no doubt that this will be an important priority.

PADILLA: Thank you. Before asking my next question, I’ll raise a topic for the record, submit questions for the record post this hearing, but I just want to echo a topic that some of my colleagues including Senator Booker have raised in terms of policing and police reforms and specifically catching on this trend of local jurisdictions increasingly not sending police officers, but sending mental health professionals to any and every incident where that is the more appropriate response and hoping that data and experience can feed and inform, you know, evidence-based best practices and utilizing the Department of Justice tools and relationships with law enforcement across the country to advance those across the country.

So, my last question is this and it is in the environment and environmental justice space. As I believe both of you are familiar, California has long been a leader in combating climate change, including through our cap and trade program. California’s landmark program was the first of its kind in the nation and is the fourth largest carbon market in the world. A key component of that is California’s linkage with the Canadian province of Quebec.

In October of 2019, six years after the program was first established, the Justice Department under the prior administration sued the state of California because of its agreement with Quebec. The lawsuit that was widely viewed as simply another effort by the then administration to attack California and undermine climate change efforts.

California’s also led the nation when it comes to producing vehicle emissions. Again, as part of a climate change strategy, something I’m particularly proud of and I know Senator Feinstein, our colleagues from this committee, has played a leadership role here in the Senate.

The prior administration similarly attempted to undermine California’s independent authority to regulate tailpipe emissions from vehicles. This included the Justice Department at the time launching a politically motivated anti-trust investigation against the automakers that agreed, voluntarily, to work with the state of California to reduce emissions. Every automaker has now walked away from supporting the now prior administration’s efforts and the Department of Justice was forced to drop its lawsuit. 

Ms. Gupta, how would you re-examine the litigation positions taken by the prior administration particularly when it comes to climate policies and environmental justice?

GUPTA: Senator, combating environmental degradation and promoting environmental justice is both a top priority of President Biden’s and would be of the Justice Department. I believe we have to use all the tools and the laws that are in place to be able to do this critical, almost existential work. I don’t prejudge any of the litigation, I’m not in the building obviously, I am a nominee, but if I’m confirmed, as part of my job looking at, reviewing all the litigation I would look at whether the facts and the law support the current stance of the Justice Department vis-à-vis the state and the auto industry of which you’re referring to, and that would be my duty and I would fulfill it.

PADILLA: I look forward to working with you on that. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

For additional information and testimonies on the hearing, click here.


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