During a visit to Community Impact Newspaper headquarters April 1, Cornyn discussed the federal minimum wage, a decision Cornyn said he would prefer to see controlled by states; how a recent federal highway bill will address traffic congestion in major Texas metropolitan areas; and his 2008 vote supporting the federal bailout of major financial institutions.
Prior to his election to the U.S. Senate in 2002, Cornyn served as a Texas Supreme Court justice and as Texas attorney general. As majority whip in the Senate, Cornyn said he aims to ensure Republicans in the Senate maintain discipline and that votes are in line with the party’s policies.
Why did the Senate decide to withhold hearings for confirming the next Supreme Court justice?
Given the fact that [the parties] are divided on that issue, I felt like we should take the time we do have to do things where there is consensus—things like criminal justice reform, mental health reform and the like, some of the things we’ve done this year. I would just say it’s an unfortunate development, but it’s kind of where we are. I don’t believe … it’s really about [Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland] so much as it is the impact of the Supreme Court on our society and the fact that the next justice will affect the balance of power on the Supreme Court for the next generation.
Do you see the Senate or anyone in Washington looking at the federal minimum wage now and making any changes?
There are always people who advocate that the federal government ought to mandate more things, including how much you pay your employees or how much a fast-food worker gets. And we’re all for people making more money; that’s great. I’d say why make it $15 an hour? Why not make it $100 an hour? The simple answer to that is you can’t have an effective business model with those sorts of overhead and costs. So really you ought to leave that to the marketplace, where those decisions are made.
How will the five-year, $305 billion federal bill signed in December help relieve traffic congestion in Austin, Houston and Dallas?
We’ve seen the consequences of [traffic congestion]. It strangles commerce, people going back and forth taking their kids to school. … The city manager from Georgetown at the meeting we attended [April 1] was just telling me about making sure they had the flexibility to do smart lanes and … using technology to figure out when the traffic is flowing and to provide people incentives, perhaps, if they want to pay a little bit more to get better access. ... If not, everybody’s got the opportunity to drive on the highway and not have to pay more than the gas tax. It’s a huge challenge, and I don’t think anybody’s got a perfect answer for it.
Why did you decide to vote for the federal bailout in 2008?
All of the experts, from [then-U.S. Secretary of the Treasury] Hank Paulson to the George [W.] Bush White House, said that if we didn’t do this that we would see a complete meltdown of the U.S. financial system, and it would have a devastating impact on the country. It really transcended political consideration.
Would you vote for it again?
I wouldn’t change the vote I made back then. I hope I never have to vote for something like that again.
Is the political scene viewed differently now from when you first took office?
I’m not sure exactly how [the presidential primaries are] going to work out, but I’m a pretty optimistic person. I also think rather than having someone come in and impose things on us, we’re free to choose our leaders ourselves, and this is the process by which we do it. It’s not always pretty. ... My hope is that we are sort of working through a period here that we’ll look back on and say, ‘Boy, that was strange.’ We’ll get back into a better place.
Would you change anything about your decision 21 years ago as a Texas Supreme Court justice to uphold the Robin Hood school finance law?
There was quite a pushback [to my 1995 decision] because some school districts in the state have benefited from the large and wealthy [school district] tax base. You had some school districts where students were receiving roughly $19,000 or $20,000 per student in terms of tax-based support, and others, because they lived in other poorer tax bases, getting a couple thousand dollars. The [Texas Supreme Court] back in 1989 said that [disparity] was unconstitutional. … As long as our courts are [financing schools] based on property tax and sales tax with disparate tax bases … it’s going to be hard.