Sen. Sasse's remarks on JUSTICE Act
U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Republican working group with U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) that wrote the JUSTICE Act, spoke on the Senate floor.
“George Floyd's murder… shocked us because it reminded us yet again that America's struggle for equal justice under the law is far, far from over. The American creed is a beautiful thing…That proposition that all men are created equal should inspire every generation of Americans and we aren't doing a very good job right now of passing on the glories of that creed to the next generation… This bill is an architectural frame to do a bunch of good things that are pretty darn non-controversial… We should be passing something 100-0… There's no reason we shouldn't be moving forward. We can get this done. We can take another step to make America's beautiful creed a reality for every single one of God's children. That's what we should do and we should do it without delay.”
The JUSTICE Act provides long-term solutions focused on three main areas: Police reform, accountability, and transparency, while including additional steps aimed at finding solutions to disparities and systemic issues facing people of color.
Sasse’s full remarks are available here and found below.
I want to start by just saying thank you to my friend from South Carolina. Lindsey Graham, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, just spoke, but I mean my desk mate Senator Scott from South Carolina, not only for his leadership and his hard work and the hard work of Jennifer and the rest of their team over the course of the last two weeks as they've been working around the clock to lead our six-person working group on this project. I want to thank Tim not just for his leadership but for his speech 30 minutes ago. For his spirit. That speech is a speech that needs to be watched by every American. And I sincerely hope that the 100 people in this room will come together and try to get an outcome, not just maintain a political issue as happens so often around here.
I think if people -- if we had the process that was the custom in the Senate until a few decades ago of committees happening in the morning and the Senate convening for most of the afternoon, if this room was actually full when Tim Scott delivered his speech, it'd be real tough for people to be talking about not voting on the motion to proceed next week and getting on this piece of legislation where we could then debate it and argue about it and fight about technical pieces here and there and figure out how we make it better, but we'd be on a piece of legislation and we'd be trying to get an outcome, and I sincerely hope that that's true. I sincerely hope that people listen to Tim Scott's speech from today.
George Floyd's murder obviously shocked the nation, but it shocked us in two ways. It shocked us on the one hand because we saw a man being murdered for eight minutes and 46 seconds and we saw three other police officers stand by while he was murdered. But it also shocked us because it reminded us yet again that America's struggle for equal justice under the law is far, far from over. The American creed is a beautiful thing. The American creed celebrates the dignity, the inherent self-worth, the fact that we believe - or so many of our founders believed - that people were created imago dei, created in the image of God as Image Bearers. And that dignity is male and female, black and white. Every man, woman, and child in this country is created with inherent dignity.
They are beautiful and that creed is beautiful. That proposition that all men are created equal should inspire every generation of Americans and we aren't doing a very good job right now of passing on the glories of that creed to the next generation. It is a beautiful and profound creed, but throughout our history our failures to live up to that creed have been ugly over and over again. And George Floyd's murder was horrific for that man and for his family and for everyone in his communities - Minneapolis, and Houston, and other places where that man had made a mark. But it was also horrific because it was yet another reminder of all of the ways that we have failed to live up to our creed.
The creed is beautiful and our execution has so often been ugly. When communities of color have lost faith in law enforcement, we aren't lived up to that creed. When an American tells you that he fears being pulled over for driving while black - and we need a lot more conversations and a lot more communities so people know this experience.
Again, Tim - one of my closest friends in this body - the experiences he's had with law enforcement in South Carolina are different than the ones I've had with law enforcement in Nebraska. The experiences he's had on Capitol Hill with law enforcement have been different than the experiences I've had on Capitol Hill. And no one should be wearing skin pigment or racial heritage as something that changes our experience with law enforcement, and yet it's regularly the case. That is ugly. The creed is beautiful and our attempts to become and to be a more perfect union and to live up to the glories of that creed, that is an important part of our shared project together.
At the risk of sounding too theological, East of Eden, sin is always ugly. And that includes America's original sin. And that tells us that we have work to do together. We have work to do as 330 million Americans, but we have work to do as 100 senators. What that should mean is that next week we are going to be in this body trying to live up to that creed and to do more.
There's a lot of technical stuff inside this bill and as Senator Scott said, 70% of what's in the JUSTICE Act is pretty darn non-controversial largely because it's lifted and summarized many pieces that are also in the House of Representatives Democrat bill.
The JUSTICE ACT puts forward a number of common-sense reforms that seek to force more accountability. The stat has been stated on the floor many times today but I want to say it again: When police use lethal force there is a voluntary opportunity today to report that to the FBI. We want to make that mandatory. We want all that data to be captured and to be passed along so there's a lot more transparency on all lethal uses of force.
The common-sense reforms include increasing police resources. There's a lot of training that needs to be done better across this country. There are a lot of practices in local law enforcement when you look at the 15-16,000, whatever the current number is, that have the capability and capacity to have law enforcement authorities. Those policing powers, there's a lot of diversity of practices and some of those practices are improving but bad still. And so, Tim and our legislation want to use the federal grant making powers to squeeze out some of those bad practices. We want to see trust rebuilt between this nation's communities and the police.
We reject the false binary that you have to make a choice between being on the side of communities of color or on the side of law enforcement. No. We don't want that to be the choice. We want the choice to be law enforcement to get better and communities of color to have more trust. We want to see more collaboration. We want to see more progress. And frankly, that's what the vast majority of individual police, and that's what the vast majority of police departments want.
The overwhelming majority of Americans – Republican, Democrat, women and men, black, white – the overwhelming majority of Americans want us to build more trust. We can do that in this body next week. We want to strive toward equal protection under the law. That starts with trying to narrow the differences and figuring out what we can do to move forward together. And that's what this bill does.
This bill is an architectural frame to do a bunch of good things that are pretty darn non-controversial and to do a bunch of things that we can build on in a debate and amendment process. We should be passing something 100-0. There will be amendment votes underneath that which will be contentious, but we should ultimately be getting on with the piece of legislation to start the process 100-0, and at the back end we should be passing something 100-0, even though in the middle there should be a bunch of amendments where people argue about the best way that we do the particulars.
There's no reason we shouldn't be moving forward. We can get this done. We can take another step to make America's beautiful creed a reality for every single one of God's children. That's what we should do and we should do it without delay.
Video of the remarks can be watched here.