Senator Durbin Talks with SIU Law School Students and Faculty

May 3, 2016

Faculty and staff at the SIU School of Law heard Tuesday directly from a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice.

Democratic Illinois Senator Dick Durbin says Merrick Garland would be a good addition to the court because you can't tell what his politics are.

"I can't predict which side he'll come down on on important issues, and they mean a lot to me. I think it's important we kind of approach this in a non-political fashion. What we're facing now is overwhelmingly political."

Before Garland's nomination, Senate Republicans said they would not hold a hearing on any nominee because it's President Obama's final year in office. But, Durbin says the Senate handled this same situation much differently in 1988.

"With a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican President Ronald Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy and sent his name to a Democratic-controlled United States Senate, which gave him a unanimous vote and put him on the court in the last year of Ronald Reagan's presidency."

Durbin says a Supreme Court nominee has never been denied a hearing.

Durbin told Law School representatives he has introduced federal legislation to expand access to treatment for people who are not receiving the addiction care they need.

The Medicaid Coverage for Addiction Recovery Expansion Act would modify an old policy that has limited treatment for those most at-risk.

Durbin says this is critical because the U.S. is in the midst of a heroin and prescription opioid epidemic.

"Gateway has staff people who are resigning here in Carbondale because they can't take it anymore. They have people begging to get in for treatment, who can't get in and they read their obits in the papers."

The measure would allow more than 2,000 additional Illinois Medicaid beneficiaries to receive care annually. Currently, less than 12 percent of Illinoisans in need of substance abuse treatment actually receive specialized care.

Durbin is also working on a measure to change minimum sentencing guidelines because of the explosion in the number of federal inmates. He says a sizable segment of the 200-thousand federal inmates is incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses.

"About 25% of those prisoners are in prison for having committed a crime involving the sale of drugs. A crime that did not involve guns, gangs, violence."

Durbin says his bill would give judges some flexibility to go below minimum sentencing standards in certain cases.

After his meeting with students and faculty, Durbin commented on the ongoing Illinois budget stalemate.

During a two-day visit to southern Illinois, Durbin says he saw firsthand the impact of the standoff.

"It is dramatic, in terms of the housing crisis in Carbondale, the number of vacant houses, the confidence of people to live in this community, in this state, the enrollment in our schools. All of these things are really, sadly being negatively impacted by this budget crisis."

Durbin says the damage being done by the impasse is similar to the 2008 recession.

The Springfield Democrat says Republican Governor Bruce Rauner must set aside his turnaround agenda for the good of the state. He says Rauner can push his reforms after a budget deal.