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Ketanji Brown Jackson Vows to Uphold Equal Justice Under Law at Historic SCOTUS Confirmation Hearing

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Historic confirmation hearings are underway for Biden’s Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. If confirmed, she will not only be the first Black woman but also the first former federal public defender to serve on the nation’s highest court. The first day of her hearings began Monday and was at times undercut by Republicans who attempted to mischaracterize her record, says Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. Ultimately, the “depth and breadth of her experience” makes Jackson a refreshing addition to the bench, she adds.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Senate Judiciary Committee began historic confirmation hearings Monday for President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. Once a clerk for Breyer, Judge Jackson now sits on D.C.’s federal appellate court. If confirmed, she would become the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court and the first former public defender.

Her parents, her husband, her daughters attended Monday’s hearing, where she was introduced by University of Pennsylvania Carey Law professor Lisa Fairfax and former George W. Bush-appointed U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Thomas Griffith. Before she spoke, senators made opening statements. Today and Wednesday, she’s answering questions from the senators. This is Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: I know tomorrow in the coming hearings we’re going to have tough, hard questions. But, please, let me just acknowledge the fact that this is not normal. It’s never happened before. The Senate is poised right now to break another barrier. We are on the precipice of shattering another ceiling, another glass ceiling. It’s a sign that we as a country are continuing to rise to our collective cherished highest ideals. I just feel this sense of overwhelming joy as I see you sitting there, as I see your family sitting behind you.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Republicans used their opening remarks to attack Judge Jackson’s work as a public defender, her representation of people detained at Guantánamo Bay, and to raise questions about what some said were her, quote, “lenient” sentences as a judge in child pornography cases. This is Republican Senator Josh Hawley.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY: What concerns me — and I’ve been very candid about this — is that in every case, in each of these seven, Judge Jackson handed down a lenient sentence that was below what the federal guidelines recommended and below what prosecutors requested. And so I think there’s a lot to talk about there, and I look forward to talking about it.

AMY GOODMAN: After sitting through nearly four hours of opening statements from senators, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson addressed the committee. She vowed to be an independent judge who knows her, quote, “limited role.” These are part of her remarks.

JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: The first of my many blessings is the fact that I was born in this great nation, a little over 50 years ago, in September of 1970. Congress had enacted two Civil Rights Acts in the decade before, and like so many who had experienced lawful racial segregation firsthand, my parents, Johnny and Ellery Brown, left their hometown of Miami, Florida, and moved to Washington, D.C., to experience new freedom.

When I was born here in Washington, my parents were public school teachers. And to express both pride in their heritage and hope for the future, they gave me an African name, Ketanji Onyika, which they were told means “lovely one.” My parents taught me that, unlike the many barriers that they had had to face growing up, my path was clearer, so that if I worked hard and I believed in myself, in America, I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be. …

During this hearing, I hope that you will see how much I love our country and the Constitution and the rights that make us free. I stand on the shoulders of so many who have come before me, including Judge Constance Baker Motley, who was the first African American woman to be appointed to the federal bench and with whom I share a birthday. And like Judge Motley, I have dedicated my career to ensuring that the words engraved on the front of the Supreme Court building — “Equal Justice Under Law” — are a reality and not just an ideal.

AMY GOODMAN: Part of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s opening remarks at the first day of her historic Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Before she spoke, activists rallied outside the Supreme Court in support of her nomination.

FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: It is personal if you have ever wondered, “Is that for me?” It is personal when she will take her seat, and we get to watch her break that glass ceiling.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, speaking at Monday’s rally in D.C. She joins us now for more.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Fatima Goss Graves. Can you talk about the significance of Judge Jackson’s nomination, and then the issues raised by the Republicans, who clearly are staking out — well, in a number of cases, we’ve got some presidential aspirants on the Judiciary Committee — and raising issues that actually had nothing to do with her?

FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: You know, yesterday we started the morning with a really joyful, intergenerational rally for a reason: because it’s a big deal to be at this point in history. It’s a big deal not just for my generation, who maybe never thought that you would actually see a Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court, but for younger generations, who now can see themselves not just as potentially a Supreme Court justice — you know, they can see themselves in so many different fields, and that mattered. We had young girls speaking at the rally yesterday, and hearing from their perspective what it meant to them was really heartwarming.

And Judge Jackson, as you just saw, is a phenomenal nominee. She is so highly qualified. She is so highly credentialed. But, actually, I think what has broken through is her character and her integrity. And so, witnessing her raise her hand, witnessing her give her opening statement and her view of the law and how serious she takes the role of being a judge, that was also an important thing yesterday, too.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Fatima Goss Graves, could you talk a little bit about her record in terms of her experience, especially representing Guantánamo Bay prisoners and currently serving as a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia?

FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: So, Judge Jackson is, in some ways, unusual as a nominee because of the depth and breadth of her experience. She’s been in private practice. She’s been a federal public defender. She was on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. So she has had a wide range. And she’s now been a district court judge and is a court of appeals judge at the moment. And what that means is she’s going to bring a really broad understanding.

Her experience as a federal public defender, though, is one that is so worthy of attention, in part because it means that the court would now have someone who has direct experience with people who are having contact with the criminal justice system. And the fact that we actually don’t have anyone on the Supreme Court now who brings that experience says a lot. The Supreme Court makes tons of decisions that impact the actual real lives of people who are facing criminal penalties.

You know, if you were watching the opening statements yesterday, you heard the sort of posturing that was coming in. And I expect that today and tomorrow she will get a lot of questions about her representation of criminal defendants, including in terms of Guantánamo. One of the things that has been really important, though, is to remind ourselves around why we actually have a justice system that allows everyone to have representation. That is core to our Constitution. Equal access to the law, equal access to justice is core. And that’s not just something for the wealthy. It is actually for those who can’t afford it. And that is the work that she did. That work is noble.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And given the highly partisan and sharply divided nature of the Senate in recent years, what’s the importance of the fact that she’s already been through the confirmation process in the Senate three different times?

FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: Right. So this is Judge Jackson’s fourth time before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She’s been confirmed three times. She’s gone through this same committee three times, all times with bipartisan support, including just last summer, where she had three Republicans join her in her nomination to the D.C. Circuit. And so, some of what you’re sort of seeing now, the posturing as if there are deep concerns around Judge Jackson’s record, doesn’t actually fall squarely into what they have done in the past.

You know, but, listen, this is a very important nomination. I think it’s important that there be robust conversation about her record, about the many different roles that she has had. That’s why she’s turned over thousands of pages. What’s not OK are efforts to distort her record. The Senate Judiciary Committee is not a place for misinformation. This is not some area of the dark web or social media. This is a serious proceeding for a serious role, and it is worthy of that approach.

AMY GOODMAN: This is part of South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s opening remarks Monday at Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Now, when we say this is not Kavanaugh, what do we mean? It means that Democratic senators are not going to have their windows busted by groups. That’s what it means. It means that no Republican senator is going to unleash on you an attack about your character when the hearing is virtually over. None of us, I hope, have been sitting on information about you as a person. For weeks or months you come into our offices, and we never share it with you to allow you to give your side of the story. We wait 'til the very last minute, when the hearing's about to be gaveled concluded, and say, “Oh, by the way, I’ve got this letter.” And so happened that every media outlet in the country had the letter, too, so the next morning there were headlines all over the country, really, accusing Judge Kavanaugh of being basically Bill Cosby. None of us are going to do that to you.

AMY GOODMAN: Fatima Goss Graves, can you decode what he’s saying and the significance of this? Also, Senator Blackburn criticized Judge Brown, Judge Brown Jackson, for supporting The 1619 Project, saying fundamentally it’s calling America racist. Of course, she couldn’t respond to any of these points, because each one makes their statement.

FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: You know, I think there are two related things that are happening. The first is that you’re seeing some Republicans trying to rewrite history. They’re trying to make us think that the totally outrageous nomination processes that we saw with Justice Kavanaugh, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett were typical. They weren’t. You know, it was just 2018, so many of us were around in 2018 to actually witness and participate. I was in the hearing room for Justice Kavanaugh’s nomination, and I will tell you I still think about that hearing. I still think about the giant disservice that was done to very serious allegations of sexual violence. And it actually has come out in the last year that the FBI didn’t actually do the investigation that was promised. So I’m not sure why they’re bringing it up, but it absolutely has nothing to do with Judge Jackson. It’s just an effort to make people think that those nomination processes were typical. They weren’t.

But the second thing that you are seeing — and I think, unfortunately, Judge Jackson is going to be subject to it today and tomorrow in serious ways — is sort of preparation and posturing for the '22 election. So you're going to hear about the themes that some of the Republicans plan to launch in that election. Again, those themes actually aren’t related to her record. And I don’t think the hearing room is the place for this sort of misinformation and distorting of her record that you’re going to see around things like critical race theory, around the sort of attack that was levied around trans youth. So, but we are, unfortunately, going to see that in this hearing room.

AMY GOODMAN: Fatima Goss Graves —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: No, I was just going to ask: What about this — a theme that was raised initially yesterday in terms of her sentencing in child pornography cases? What do you know about that?

FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: I actually think that is one of the most giant disservices, and it doesn’t surprise me that it’s coming from Senator Josh Hawley. I think the thing that people should know, as he tries to mischaracterize her record, is that she has sentenced more than a hundred defendants proportionately to the crimes that they have committed and in lines with other judges. That’s a thing that he knows, but he is still trying to mislead the public about her record. And it’s why she has the clear support from the law enforcement community. So this is a nonsense issue. He’s doing it, though, to make people confused about her record. It’s unfortunate.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you for being with us. And at 9:00 each day — at least at this point, we understand the hearings will begin at 9:00 Eastern time today —

FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: — Wednesday and Thursday — we’ll be live-streaming them at democracynow.org for people to watch. Fatima Goss Graves, thanks so much for being with us, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center.

FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Coming up, we look at Russia’s siege of Mariupol. We’ll speak to a Human Rights Watch researcher who’s just left Ukraine after interviewing survivors who managed to escape the devastation. Stay with us.

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