WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Ritchie Torres (NY-15) today appeared on CNN’s Inside Politics with Dana Bash where he strongly condemned two Supreme Court rulings in cases dealing with President Biden’s student loan debt forgiveness plan and LGBTQI+ legal protections.
“I cannot help but feel that the most consequential policy decisions are being decided not by elected officials. But by the unelected judges of the Supreme Court, particularly a right-wing supermajority. The Supreme Court is increasingly operating as a super legislature…,” said Rep. Torres.
VIDEO of Rep. Torres’s interview can be viewed here.
A RUSH TRANSCRIPT of the interview, as broadcast live, is as follows:
DANA BASH, Anchor: Just moments ago President Biden reacted to the major Supreme Court decision on LGBTQ rights. Joe Biden calls it an invitation to discriminate that threatens dignity and equality of all Americans. Congressman Ritchie Torres of New York is the only openly gay black man currently serving in Congress and he joins me now. Thank you so much, sir. for being with us this hour, the Supreme Court just ruled in favor of a Christian web designer who cited religious objections and refusing to make a website for same sex couple. I want to get your perspective, you’re a member of Congress, but as I mentioned, or you’re an openly gay man, what was your reaction when you learned of the ruling.
REP. TORRES: Well, the decision is a dark day not only for the LGBTQ community, but for democracy, and I cannot help but feel that the most consequential policy decisions are being decided not by elected officials. But by the unelected judges of the Supreme Court, particularly a right-wing supermajority. The Supreme Court is increasingly operating as a super legislature and laws become politics by other means. And this particular decision reminds us that the greatest threat to LGBTQ equality is the weaponization of religious liberty. Religious Liberty properly understood, means freedom from discrimination, not freedom to discriminate. And if the Supreme Court continues to reinterpret religious liberty as a license to discriminate, it’s going to have implications for civil rights laws at every level of government, and it’s going to have implications far beyond the LGBTQ community.
BASH: I want to read you an excerpt from the majority opinion it was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and it says, “taken seriously that principle would allow the government to force all manner of artists speech writers and others whose services involve speech to speak what they do not believe on paying a penalty. Equally, the government could force a male website designer married to another man to design websites. For an organization that advocates against same sex marriage.” Does he have a point there?
REP. TORRES: He’s wrong and he’s sending a message. You’re free to discriminate as long as you do so, under the guise of religious liberty. The principle that there will be no discrimination in the public market, which is a legacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1965. And the Supreme Court is overturning of course civil rights principle in the name of religious liberty.
BASH: Some are more concerned congressman about the ambiguity of the word expressive, expressive services, that’s a term that is used frequently in this majority opinion. Does the ruling today point to a Supreme Court that could be ready to overturn other rights of LGBTQ people including same sex marriage?
REP. TORRES: We’re witnessing of radical politicized Supreme Court that we’ve seen in recent history. As you might recall, Justice Thomas famously called on the Supreme Court to overturn about Obergefell versus Hodges which protects the right to marriage equality. And Congress had to take action to codify marriage equality in federal law, in order to preempt what is increasingly a politicized Supreme Court. So I do worry that the threat to LGBTQ equality from the Supreme Court is real and it’s going to continue.
BASH: The other big cases at the Supreme Court ruled on today was against President Biden’s plan to relieve student loan debt. The Chief Justice wrote quote, “Today, we have concluded that the words ‘waive or modify’ does not mean ‘completely rewrite’; that our precedent old and new requires that congress speak clearly before department secretary can unilaterally alter sections of the American economy.” You just said that the court is to politicize and they’re acting like the legislative branch, in the other case, student loan debt. They said it’s not up to us. It’s up to you, Congressman Torres and other members of Congress. Do you understand that they have a point there, or do you believe so?
REP. TORRES: Well Congress did speak clearly. Congress passed a law that authorizes the education secretary to modify or waive any statutory or regulatory provision to protect borrowers affected by a national emergency. Congress did not say some provisions or most provisions. We said all provisions and the Supreme Court proceeded to ignore the will of Congress in order to deprive more than 40 million households of student debt forgiveness, these 40 million households are burdened by nearly $2 trillion in student debt.
BASH: What are the political implications of this? I mean, imagine 40 million people that would have benefited starting to benefit from this plan. The President made it a cornerstone of his 2020 campaign. Is it a political problem now for the President and other Democrats like yourself who are going to be on the ballot and promised this would happen?
REP. TORRES: What quite the opposite. The excesses of the Supreme Court is going to backfire. On the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade reduced what was supposed to be a red wave in the 2022 election cycle to nothing more than a red trickle. So not only is the Supreme Court’s decision-making bad law it’s also bad politics, and it’s going to come back to haunt the Republican Party.
BASH: Congressman Ritchie Torres, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
REP. TORRES: Of course.