Election 2022 Vermont Senate

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., acknowledges applause as his wife Marcelle Pomerleau looks on at the conclusion of a news conference at the Vermont State House to announce he will not seek re-election, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, in Montpelier. 

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MANCHESTER — Failing to advance the John Lewis Voting Rights Act bothers U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy a great deal, he said Wednesday.

“That not passing is one of the greatest disappointments I felt in 48 years,” Leahy said of the Senate’s failure to exempt the bill from its filibuster rules and vote the bill up or down. He spoke with Vermont News & Media and Greater Northshire Access Television recently in a wide-ranging conversation.

Not seeing the bill through is personal for Leahy for several reasons, he said.

Leahy still recalls accompanying his parents to the polls as a young child in Montpelier, and being taken behind the curtain to see how it was done. And he fondly recalls his friendship with Lewis, a civil rights leader and longtime congressman who died in 2020.

“John Lewis was one of my best friends,” Leahy said, noting how honored he was that Lewis appeared with him at the Flynn Theater in Burlington. “He was a man of soul and conscience,” he added. “I want to keep fighting until the day I leave the Senate to get it passed.”

What does it say about us as a country, Leahy said, if we are so afraid of voters that we’re going to try to stop some Americans from voting.

“That’s immoral, that’s wrong, and that is destructive of democracy. I can’t emphasize this enough. I cannot think of anything that frustrates me more than denying people the right to vote,” he said.

Asked if he could convince Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to change their minds on removing the filibuster, so that the bill can come to the floor for a vote, he said, “I hope so. We should not be filibustering the right to vote. We should vote on whether to have the right to vote.”

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Leahy, the senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also addressed the politicization of the Supreme Court nominating process. He said President Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate a black woman to the high court for the first time is “an excellent idea.”

“I know his thinking on this next nominee. I am delighted to see it,” he said. “I saw the people he’s looking at. Any one of them would be eminently well qualified to be on the United States Supreme Court. ”

Friday, Biden nominated federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, calling her a “proven consensus builder” who has “a pragmatic understanding that the law must work for the American people.”

Leahy said over the years he has voted for judicial nominees from presidents of both parties.

“I voted for people I thought would keep the independence of the court,” he said.

But the most recent three nominees — Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — were “put in there to be politicians,” Leahy said. That gives the court a 6-3 conservative majority.

“Maybe they’re bright people and all that. But if you come in with an agenda, a political agenda, to the Supreme Court, it hurts the court,” Leahy said.

Look for more from Sen. Patrick Leahy’s interview with GNAT and Vermont News & Media next week.

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik@benningtonbanner.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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