Commentary: Graham’s support for a Supreme Court nominee puts SC health care at risk

This week, as the United States passed the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths and nearly 7 million cases of coronavirus, Republicans are rushing to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat with a nominee who will strike down health care coverage, including coverage for preexisting conditions, in the middle of a pandemic. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham has made it clear he will support the nominee, which would allow her to rule on the future of health care.

Graham’s support for President Donald Trump’s nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, will push the court further to the right, threatening health care, workers’ rights and the ability to address climate change. She has publicly criticized the 2012 Supreme Court decision to uphold crucial health care protections, such as coverage for preexisting conditions and it is a safe assumption that when the court hears arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in Texas v. California, she will vote to strike it down. Trump has made opposition to health care a litmus test for his Supreme Court nominees, and Barrett has cleared that bar.

That means Graham would vote to overturn protections for as many as 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions who will be at risk for higher premiums or who could be denied coverage altogether. That could affect the millions of Americans suffering from COVID-19 — whose possible long-term effects we are only beginning to understand — who could go on to have recurring symptoms that could then keep them from being able to afford health care. And for the millions of South Carolinians who have lost their health insurance as a result of historic job losses due to the pandemic, that means being unable to access health care when they need it most.

This is to say nothing of the fact that these losses will disproportionately affect black communities, already devastated by the proliferate pandemics of institutional racism, job losses and health disparities. According to the National Urban League, black Americans are infected with COVID-19 at nearly three times the rate of white Americans.

It can be tempting to view the Supreme Court confirmation fight as another D.C.-insider partisan battle. But don’t lose sight of what this vote by Graham will do — put our right to affordable and accessible health care in immediate and dire danger. Judge Barrett will put health care at risk for all of us and will bring back the nightmare scenario that prevailed before the ACA, when insurance companies could — and did — routinely deny coverage for preexisting conditions. To even consider allowing that today is unconscionable.

And yet, that is exactly what Graham is doing.

In the flip flop heard round the world, Republican Party loyalist Lindsey Graham said just two years ago that he would oppose filling a Supreme Court vacancy during an election year and that one could use his words against him. Now, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he is advocating for precisely that, putting politics ahead of principle and wresting that decision away from the American people, to their detriment.

As Trump said at his rally in Pittsburgh this past week, this nominee will “set policy for 50 years.” The stakes for the American people are just too high. We can stop Lindsey Graham from taking away the health care of millions of Americans in the middle of this pandemic. We can hold him accountable for his words and actions. We can and must vote him out.

Ben Jealous is president of People for the American Way, a progressive advocacy group.

Originally published at https://www.postandcourier.com on September 27, 2020.

President, People For the American Way. Visiting Scholar, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. Former National President, NAACP.