Photo Gallery | Leahy visits Brattleboro
BRATTLEBORO — Pancakes led to two speeches largely dominated by the future of the Supreme Court.
"We have come a long way," U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, said. "Let us not start picking people by their religion, picking people by their ethnicity, saying that if you're first generation Americans that somehow you don't belong."
Leahy, his wife Marcelle and his staffers hosted the breakfast Monday at the Brattleboro American Legion Hall as part of the senator's 14-county tour.
In support of his running for re-election, state Sen. Becca Balint said Leahy's voice is needed in Washington, D.C. Balint represents Windham County in the Vermont Legislature along with Sen. Jeanette White.
"Like many of you, I have been utterly terrified by the election season this year," said Balint, a Democrat. "Months ago, when Donald Trump started to rise in the polls, my dad got a phone call from his sister, my aunt. And she called him in tears. Now, she was 12 when her father, my grandfather, was rounded up and sent to a Jewish ghetto in Budapest, Hungary, and then to a concentration camp in Austria. Leopold Balint, my grandfather, was killed in the waiting days of the war in the spring of 1945."
Trump's "nasty rhetoric but more importantly, his fan's enthusiastic response to it has brought back long-buried trauma and horrible memories in my aunt," Balint said, adding that it was important to have elected officials like Leahy who "acts as a sentinel — someone who is ever vigilant standing watch to make sure our civil rights and liberties are protected."
Balint also brought up "the ongoing battle" of President Barack Obama's "supremely qualified candidate" for Supreme Court Judge, Merrick Garland. She praised Leahy for calling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's refusal of a hearing to replace Antonin Scalia "for what it was; sleazy."
"(Leahy) said to his colleagues, 'Have the courage to do your job and ask the questions,'" said Balint. "Now when some of my friends disillusioned and frustrated by our admittedly imperfect election system say to me, 'You know, I'm not voting this year, I'm sitting this one out,' I first calm my racing heart then I edit the vulgarities out of my response. And I say two words, 'Supreme Court.'"
The next president will shape the Supreme Court for generations to come, said Balint, telling attendees that she did not want to see the "great strides" towards equality in the court system to be undone.
Leahy agreed and took it a step further. He said that whoever becomes president will shape the court for the rest of the lives of most of the people gathered at the legion. More than 60 attendees had ages ranging from late teens to senior citizens.
"The Constitution is very clear. It says the president shall nominate when there's a vacancy. 'Shall.' Not may. Not think about it. 'Shall.' The president fulfilled his constitutional duty," said Leahy." Every single senator when they take the oath of office, they stand and they say, 'We will uphold the Constitution of the United States so help me God.'"
He called McConnell's blocking of the nomination "balderdash."
"It's like Trump is writing his talking points. They say, 'Well, we've never done this in an election year.' Yeah, there's very rarely vacancies in an election year," said Leahy. "But there has been 12 of them. And in those 12, we've had confirmations."
A standing ovation was given to Brattleboro resident Jay Karpin, who received the French Legion of Honor Award. The award was dedicated to Karpin in October 2015 and presented to him on May 1 at the Consulate General of France in Boston, Mass. He has received other medals associated with his service during World War II.
Leahy said when Karpin was flying "those extremely dangerous missions," he was doing so to protect the country, the Constitution and a way of life.
"We want that to continue," Leahy added.
Karpin, who describes himself as a lifelong Democrat, told the Reformer he was "very honored" by Leahy's "accolades."
Having served as a Select Board member in Grafton several times in both the 1960s and 2000s, Karpin said he's always been active in politics. He also assisted with other Democrats who had run for governor in Vermont. He helped Phil Hoss become the state's first Democrat elected governor in 1963. And Karpin said he backed former Gov. Howard Dean, "of course."
"I would certainly back Leahy again," said Karpin. "I think he really hit the nail on the head. The Republicans are definitely holding up the next (Supreme Court) election, which Obama has the right to do."
Private meetings between a few Democrats and Republicans have been underway with a thought towards unity after the election, according to Leahy.
"We've got to make things work again," he said. "We have to be the conscience of the nation. The conscience has failed in recent times. We've got to bring it back. We've got to be able to speak out. And when we hear bigotry and racism and anti-religious comments then we have to speak out on that. We are better than that in Vermont and we are better than that as a country."
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.