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2022 Lawton, Oklahoma Chautauqua June 21 - 25

A marathon day is ahead for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

A marathon day is ahead for President Biden's Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. Jackson is expected to spend about 12 hours fielding questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In her opening remarks to lawmakers, Jackson pledged to be independent.

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KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: I decide cases from a neutral posture. I evaluate the facts. And I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me without fear or favor.

MARTINEZ: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been covering the hearing. Carrie, so what are Democrats emphasizing about Judge Jackson and her record?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: There's a real focus on the trailblazing nature of this nomination. Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois pointed out that 115 people have sat on the Supreme Court. But Judge Jackson would be the first Black woman. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey couldn't contain how happy he was at the sight of Judge Jackson, her parents, her husband, their two daughters. All of them, except for the daughters, really seemed to be on the verge of tears at different points Monday. Here's more from Senator Booker.

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CORY BOOKER: 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.

MARTINEZ: Now, Jackson's been on the bench for nearly a decade. What kind of clues about how she would rule on the court did you find in her past decisions?

JOHNSON: Well, she's ruled both for and against the government in different cases. There have been almost 600 of them in that tenure. In one high-profile dispute, she said, presidents are not kings. She said former President Trump's White House counsel did have to appear before Congress to testify about possible obstruction of justice. In another case, Judge Jackson turned back a challenge from environmental groups and allowed the Trump administration to proceed with building parts of a wall along the southwest border. Earlier in her career, Jackson was a public defender. She handled appeals for people too poor to afford a lawyer, including a detainee at Guantanamo Bay. She also worked on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets federal policies.

MARTINEZ: The U.S. Sentencing Commission. That's where Republican senators have focused some of their harshest criticism. What are we likely to hear on that today?

JOHNSON: We're going to hear a lot about that, I think. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri unleashed an argument that Judge Jackson has been too soft on crime, too soft on defendants in several child pornography cases. Here's what he said.

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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.

JOHNSON: Hawley's going to dive deeper today. He got some support from Senator Lindsey Graham, who called that issue fair game. But other conservative lawyers say the attack on Judge Jackson is misleading. Andrew McCarthy, who wrote in the National Review, said it was meritless to the point of demagoguery because Josh Hawley, he says, is not distinguishing between the people who produce child pornography and the people who share it online. Now, many legal experts and most federal judges think the penalties for distribution are too harsh. They tend to sentence just the way Judge Jackson did, according to data from the Sentencing Commission.

MARTINEZ: Now, Carrie, I'll admit I'm waiting to see how hot the room gets today, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTINEZ: It's Day 2, after all. So what's the overall outlook, though, for Jackson's confirmation?

JOHNSON: If all 50 Democrats in the Senate stick together, Jackson will be confirmed and make history. The White House had hoped for some bipartisan support, maybe three or four Republicans to cross the aisle. It's just not clear how many she'll attract this time around.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks a lot.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.