Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson faces aggressive questioning on third day of Senate hearings

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson faced a second day of questioning Wednesday by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Saikrishna Prakash, a University of Virginia law professor and former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, and Melody Barnes, executive director of the Karsh Institute of Democracy at the University of Virginia, join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And for more insight on today's hearing, I'm joined by Saikrishna Prakash. He's a law professor at the University of Virginia and a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas. And Melody Barnes, she is the executive director of the Karsh Institute of Democracy at the University of Virginia. She previously served in the Obama administration as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and as chief counsel to Senator Ted Kennedy on the Judiciary Committee.

    And we're welcoming both of you back to the "NewsHour."

    Sai Prakash, let me start with you.

    You heard both Lisa and Marcia saying how much even more aggressive the questioning today was from Republicans. So much of it centered on Judge Jackson's sentencing around child exploitation. What is going on here, do you think?

    Saikrishna Prakash, Former Clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas: I think the Republicans are trying to use the meme of Democrats being soft on crime, and so they are speaking to their constituents, possibly speaking about future offices.

    And so they are focused on an issue that they think gives them political mileage. They don't expect that this will derail the nomination. And they know it's going through. And they decided to use it to speak to their political base.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, they are using it, you just — you said, for political mileage?

  • Saikrishna Prakash:


    I mean, I think, as you said yesterday, Judy, these hearings aren't really only about trying to find out more about the nominee. They're also about politicians using the platform they're on to advance their agendas and their careers.

    And both sides are doing this in various ways. And they know that the attention of the nation is upon them. And they're going to use that time for their purposes, and, perhaps secondarily, for the purposes of the nation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Melody Barnes, is — to what extent is all of this, do you think, cutting into the impression that the nominee and the White House want to leave with the public about who she is?

  • Melody Barnes, Former White House Domestic Policy Adviser:

    Oh, I think that's a great question.

    I completely agree with Sai about what's going on here. And, in fact, there's a term some friends of mine use. There are quetements (ph) that are being made, questions that are actually really statements and ways that they want to — the Republicans are trying to draw a picture of Judge Brown Jackson.

    But I think, overall, she is parrying with Republican senators quite well. She's making her points. And she's doing so in a way that demonstrates the kind of judicial temperament that her former colleagues and peers and the White House have said is natural for her, and it's what you would want from a Supreme Court justice.

    So I think she is — she's managing this quite well.

    I do think that Lisa Desjardins was pointing to those six senators that we're looking. But there's a question about how some of this is affecting them, and certainly as we look at Senator Graham, who was a supporter of hers when she was nominated to the circuit court.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And sounds very much like he will not be a supporter this time, although we don't know, of course, until he casts his vote.

    Sai Prakash, do we come away, though, with a better — I mean, given all the noise that we have just been talking about, do we come away with a better sense of who she is and what kind of justice she might be if she's confirmed?

  • Saikrishna Prakash:

    I think so. I think so, very much so, Judy.

    I think we have met a remarkable person. Many of us didn't know much about her, a very poised person, a very judicious person and then, interestingly enough, a person who's open to more conservative approaches to the law, like originalism. I think many people on the right are remarkably surprised by some of the things she said that suggests a more limited judicial conception and a more limited judicial role than many people on the left might have supposed that she represented.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And flesh that out for us a moment. I mean, what more do you think people would have liked to hear, would have liked to hear her question about that maybe would have helped or hurt her?

  • Saikrishna Prakash:

    Well, I think — as I said yesterday, I think more focus on judicial philosophy, less focus on individual cases.

    There's no one on earth who has issued an opinion or said something that they disagreed with later on. And the fact that she might have done that sometimes, that she might have come to a different conclusion today than she did in the past, just isn't, I think, dispositive as to whether she should be consented to by the Senate and appointed by the president.

    So I think there's a bit of a gotcha game going on with respect to the Republicans that doesn't really have to do with whether she should be appointed to the Supreme Court. And I think probing her views on judicial philosophy, what she called methodology, would have been a more useful use of their time today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Melody Barnes, the course, so much attention placed on the fact that this is the first — she would be the first Black woman to serve on the court.

    How much has race, do you think, played a role in these hearings, if at all?

  • Melody Barnes:

    Well, it's absolutely played a role.

    The White House, when she was announced and back during the campaign, then-candidate Biden made it clear that he wanted to put forward an African-American woman. So that firmly put it on the table. And I think the argument there is, there have been 115 people who've sat on the Supreme Court, and only two African-Americans, no African-American women.

    You cannot believe in 200 years that there are no African-American women who were qualified to sit on this court. So this is redressing — or this is putting someone on the court who deserves to be there, who has every qualification to be there, and starts to bring greater diversity to the court.

    But, at the same time, there are other issues at play here. We were talking earlier, and I think Marcia Coyle was talking about this soft-on-crime narrative. And that's a 50-, 60-year-old narrative, and not only attaches to liberals and to Democrats, but it's one that people try to attach to African-Americans as well.

    So I think that that's certainly playing out here, and, certainly, the Janice Rogers Brown nomination, and what happened there, and the grievance there, and that she would have been, so they say, a nominee to the Supreme Court and the first African-American woman nominated, but she was denied that, but also without acknowledging that this is beyond just one nominee.

    This is about the judicial philosophy that would play out and how it would impact all of the country. And that's someone that even George Will said was out of the mainstream. So there are a lot of different threads at work here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're mentioning a conservative — a nominee, as you say, conservative Janice Rogers Brown, who was nominated back in the early 1990s. It was filibustered. But then she was eventually confirmed.

    But, very quickly, Sai Prakash, your sense is that she's confirmed? You don't see — you don't see anything standing in the way?

  • Saikrishna Prakash:

    She will be confirmed, Judy.

    And the president will appoint her. The only question is, how many Republican votes will she get? And I think she should get more than she's likely to get.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sai Prakash, Melody Barnes, both the University of Virginia. Thank you both. We appreciate it.

    And you can watch the final day of the Jackson hearings tomorrow. That is at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. That's on our Web site and our YouTube page.

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