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“You Are My Harbinger of Hope”: Sen. Cory Booker Defends Ketanji Brown Jackson Amid GOP Attacks

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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson appears poised to become the first Black woman and the first former public defender on the Supreme Court, having weathered attacks from Republicans with little support from Democrats during the third leg of her confirmation hearing on Wednesday. We speak with legal analysts Imani Gandy and Dahlia Lithwick. Republican senators’ behavior was “shocking” in how they embraced and perpetuated misinformation, says Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and senior legal correspondent for Slate. Gandy, senior editor of law and policy for Rewire News Group, says Republican attacks consisted of “white men trying to flex their power over a Black woman, knowing that she could not respond in the way that, for example, Brett Kavanaugh responded in his hearings.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

Confirmation hearings for President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, continued Wednesday with more than 10 hours of questioning as Republicans ramped up their attacks on her record as a federal judge and public defender. She’s the first Black woman nominated to the high court and was accused by Senator Lindsey Graham of judicial activism and grilled by Josh Hawley on a child pornography case involving an 18-year-old defendant in which she imposed a three-month sentence.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY: Judge, you gave him three months. My question is: Do you regret it or not?

JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: Senator, what I regret is that in a hearing about my qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences. And I’ve tried to explain many time —

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY: You regret that we’re focusing on your cases? I don’t understand.

JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: No, no, no, I’m talking about the fact that you’re talking about —

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY: Child pornography cases?

JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: — seven very serious cases, … and no one case can stand in for my entire record of how I deal with criminal cases, or did when I was a district judge. I have law enforcement in my family. I am a mother who has daughters, who took these cases home with me at night because they are so graphic in terms of the kinds of images that you are describing.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Hawley questioning Judge Jackson. She endured repeated attacks until Democratic Senator Cory Booker, the only African American senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee, delivered an impassioned speech praising Ketanji Brown Jackson. He recalled the historical significance of her nomination as Jackson wiped away tears.

SEN. CORY BOOKER: As Langston Hughes wrote:

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where
every one is free. …

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
But I swear this oath—
America will be!

That is the story of how you got to this desk, you and I and everyone here, generations of folk who came here and said, “America, I’m Irish. You may say, ‘No Irish or dogs need apply,’ but I’m going to show this country that I can be free here. I can make this country love me as much as I love it.” Chinese Americans, first — forced into near slave labor building our railroads, connecting our country, saw the ugliest of America, but they were going to build their home here and say, “America, you may not love me yet, but I’m going to make this nation live up to its promise and hope.” LGBTQ Americans from Stonewall, women to Seneca, hidden figures who didn’t even get their play until some Hollywood movie finally talked about them and how they were critical for us defying gravity — all of these people loved America.

And so, you faced insults here that were shocking to me — well, actually not shocking. But you are here because of that kind of love, and nobody is taking this away from me. So, you’ve got five more folk to go through, five more of us. And then you can sit back and let us have all the debates. And I’m going to tell you, it’s going to be a well-charted Senate floor, because it’s not going to stop. They’re going to accuse you of this and that. Heck, in honor of your — the person who shares your birthday, you might be called a communist. But don’t worry, my sister. Don’t worry. God has got you. And how do I know that? Because you’re here. And I know what it’s taken for you to sit in that seat.

Harriet Tubman is one of my heroes, because the more I read about this person, the more — I mean, she was viciously beaten. Her whole life, she used to fall into spells. Cracked skull. She faced starvation, chased by dogs. And when she got to freedom, what did she do? Did she rest? No, she went back, again and again and again. The sky was full of stars. But she found one that was a harbinger of hope for better days, not just for her and those people that were enslaved but a harbinger of hope for this country. And she never gave up on America. She fought in the — led troops in the Civil War. She was involved in the suffrage movement. And as I came back from my run, after being near assaulted by someone on the street, I thought about her and how she looked up. She kept looking up. No matter what they did to her, she never stopped looking up. And that star, it was a harbinger of hope.

Today you’re my star. You are my harbinger of hope. This country is getting better and better and better. And when that final vote happens and you ascend onto the — onto the highest court in the land, I’m going to rejoice. And I’m going to tell you right now, the greatest country in the world, the United States of America, will be better because of you. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Dahlia Lithwick is Slate.com senior editor, senior legal correspondent. Her new piece is headlined “Cory Booker Aside, Democrats Stranded Ketanji Brown Jackson.” And in Boulder, Colorado, we’re joined by Imani Gandy, senior editor of law and policy for Rewire News Group, where she covers law and courts and co-hosts the podcast Boom! She’s been live-tweeting the past three days of Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing.

I want to get response from both of you, beginning with Imani, about these — the three days, what stood out for you, and how Judge Brown Jackson was treated. Imani?

IMANI GANDY: I think it stood out for me that she describes herself as a patriot. I think that that was one of the key moments for me, the way she described herself as a patriot, the way she described herself as believing in this country, as believing in the Constitution and what this country can be. I think given the way that she was treated by Republican senators and given the struggle that she has had to endure — and I’m sure the racism and the misogyny and the downplaying of her intellect that she has had to endure — to get to where she is, is remarkable. And the fact that she’s had to endure all of that and remain this hopeful about the dream of this country, I think, is remarkable.

As for Senators Cruz, Hawley, Cotton, Blackburn, their behavior was shameful, was absolutely shameful. And I don’t even want to give any of the discussion about child sex abuse materials any more credence than it needs to be, because none of it made any sense. As was said multiple times, her sentencing when it comes to those types of cases were in line with 70% of judges. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz voted for innumerable Trump-nominated judges who sentenced people convicted for having child sex abuse materials to similar sentences that Judge Jackson did. So this was just, it seemed to me, white men trying to flex their power over a Black woman, knowing that she could not respond in the way that, for example, Brett Kavanaugh responded in his hearings. I think that just highlights the ways in which Black women are treated differently than white men, and Black women are not given as much grace as white men are in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Dahlia, you — 

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Dahlia Lithwick, could you — go ahead, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: No, go ahead, Nermeen.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Dahlia, you wrote in your recent piece, “Cory Booker Aside, Democrats Stranded Ketanji Brown Jackson.” So could you talk about the attacks on her, the way that she was questioned, and the Democrats’ response?

DAHLIA LITHWICK: I mean, I think Imani nails it. It’s shocking that something that started as a kind toxic Reddit trial balloon last week by Senator Hawley, you know, who floated late on Thursday night this ridiculously and completely unsupported idea that the attack on Judge Jackson was going to be predicated on the fact that our children are unsafe because of her sentencing decisions, in a tiny cluster — seven — child pornography cases, that went, in under a week, from a crackpot idea that was debunked in the National Review online, debunked across the spectrum, debunked by former judges — Republican judges, in some cases — who said, as you just heard, she was well in line with what the sentencing guidelines require and what other judges do — and in a week, it turned into something that Ted Cruz joyfully lapped up, Marsha Blackburn, Tom Cotton, Lindsey Graham. And watching this misinformation go from an addled idea that everyone on the committee, all the Republicans, distanced themselves from last week, and they embraced. By the time we got to the end of yesterday, 10 Republican senators had signed a letter wanting to see confidential presentencing reports that are sealed, so they could personally assess whether Judge Jackson was endangering our children. That’s how January 6 happened. That’s how claims about stolen elections happened. We don’t debunk these completely pernicious lies, and in the span of a week all of them wrap themselves in this shoddy, shoddy cloak that Judge Jackson is somehow soft on, or even enabling of, child sex predators. It was appalling.

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