Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson defends her judicial record in Senate hearing

Tuesday was the second day of the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. John Yang reports, and congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins and our legal analyst Marcia Coyle, of the National Law Journal, join Judy Woodruff to unpack all of the developments at the hearing.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The spotlight in Washington today was once again on President Biden's pick to join the Supreme Court.

    As John Yang reports, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson faced hours of questioning from the Senate committee looking into her record.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL):

    This meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee will come to order.

  • John Yang:

    Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans sought to build a case today that Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson is unfit for the High Court.

    Armed with a stack of books, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a former and likely future presidential candidate, said the Washington, D.C., private school on whose board Jackson sits promotes Critical Race Theory, a hot-button issue for conservatives.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX):

    Is Critical Race Theory taught in schools? Is it taught in kindergarten through 12?

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Supreme Court Nominee:

    Senator, I don't know. I don't think so. I believe it is an academic theory that is at the law school level.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz:

    I find that statement a little hard to reconcile with the public record, because, if you look at the Georgetown Day School's curriculum, it is filled and overflowing with Critical Race Theory.

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson:

    I understood you to be addressing public schools. Georgetown Day School, just like the religious school that Justice Barrett was on the board of, is a private school.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz:

    OK, so you agree Critical Race Theory is taught at Georgetown Day School?

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson:

    I don't know, because the board is not — the board does not control the curriculum. The board does not focus on that. That is not what we do as board members, so I am actually not sure.

  • John Yang:

    Jackson defended her judicial record, and said she rules with neutrality.

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson:

    I am acutely aware that, as a judge in our system, I have limited power, and I am trying in every case to stay in my lane.

  • John Yang:

    Republicans like Texas Senator John Cornyn pushed back.

  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX):

    But where you have deferred answering, saying you want to stay in your lane and not be seen as a policymaker, would you agree with me that one of the most important questions under our constitutional form of government and the separation of powers is who decides?

  • John Yang:

    Jackson said being a federal public defender and a trial judge had helped shape her work.

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson:

    I think that experience in the criminal justice system, whether, as you say, on the prosecution side or the defense side, having actual experience, is an asset as a judge.

    You understand the way the system works. And, as a defense counsel, you have interacted with defendants in a way that, as a judge, at least as a trial judge, I thought was very beneficial.

  • John Yang:

    Senate Democrats used their questioning to help Jackson blunt Republican attacks.

  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT):

    What do you say to people who say you're soft on crime, or even anti-law enforcement, because you accepted your duties as a public defender?

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson:

    As someone who has had family members on patrol and in the line of fire, I care deeply about public safety. I know what it's like to have loved ones who go off to protect and to serve, and the fear of not knowing whether or not they're going to come home again because of crime in the community.

  • John Yang:

    Committee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois gave Jackson a chance to respond to the charge from Senator Josh Hawley, another potential Republican presidential candidate, that, as a trial judge, she let child pornography offenders off the hook.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin:

    Could you tell us what was going through your mind at that point?

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson:

    As a mother and a judge who has had to deal with these cases, I was thinking that nothing could be further from the truth.

    In every case when I am dealing with something like this, it is important to me to make sure that the children's perspectives, the children's voices are represented in my sentences. These people are looking at 20, 30, 40 years of supervision.

    They can't use their computers in a normal way for decades. I am imposing all of those constraints because I understand how significant, how damaging, how horrible this crime is.

  • John Yang:

    Jackson also sought to deflect Republican criticisms of her past representation of four Guantanamo Bay detainees.

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson:

    Federal public defenders don't get to pick their clients. They have to represent whoever comes in. And it's a service. That's what you do as a federal public defender. You are standing up for the constitutional value of representation.

  • John Yang:

    Tomorrow, another long day of questioning.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And here to unpack developments at today's hearing are congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins and our legal analyst, Marcia Coyle of "The National Law Journal."

    Hello to both of you. It has been a long day. It continues into the night.

    Lisa, this day has been marked by a number of civil exchanges with Judge Jackson, but also by some accusatory, even angry rounds of questioning from some of the Republican senators.

    Is it a surprise among the senators and people you're talking to that we're seeing so much focus around child pornography and her views on race history?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I believe some of the Republicans, especially these leading these questions, they're not surprised.

    This was part of their game plan coming into this hearing. This is what they wanted to ask about. But I think, for Democrats and for some Republicans who have been around here longer, who want to talk about things like judicial philosophy, which we did hear fascinating debate about, they, I think, are surprised that this has been suddenly a headline of his hearing, that it did get so contentious, and that there were so many repeated questions along the same lines, not just questions, but accusations.

    I just came from talking to Senator Hawley about his questioning of Judge Jackson. And I asked him, do you not allow for the possibility that she was in line with probationary officers' recommendations, if not prosecutors, which is his charge?

    And he said: "Well, I haven't seen those probationary recommendations, and the prosecutors are the ones that matter."

    Then I said, well, what about the data that shows she was, in fact, in line with federal judges across the country at the time, including judges in Missouri? And he told me he has not seen that data.

    But that's an important point. Where was she relative to the rest of the country?

    And, moreover, I asked him, what do you think this tells you about her as a Supreme Court nominee? He says he thinks she's just too lenient in this category. But it is just one category of her long jurisprudence. It definitely changed the flavor of the day, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, one category, but a lot of time spent on that.

    Marcia, what's your assessment of how Judge Jackson handled these contentious, accusatory exchanges and what it says about her overall qualifications?

    Marcia Coyle, "The National Law Journal": I think she handled them very patiently, because she had to respond several times to the child pornography accusation, that she's too lenient in that area.

    I think she gave as much as she could give on certain things. I know Senator Cornyn pressed pressure on same-sex marriage and how the right can conflict with religious beliefs and his concern about those who express religious beliefs being vilified if they oppose same-sex marriage.

    And her answer was: I understand that concern.

    And that was as far as she would go and as far as she can go. He was hoping that she could say something about the constitutional right being wrong. She was not going to say that.

    So, very patient. There was that one moment where I think I saw a discernible sigh when she was dealing with Senator Cruz and his questions about Critical Race Theory, sort of implying that she was a proponent of books and writings that portrayed children as racist, babies as racist.

    So, I think, overall, long day for her, lots of questions, well over 100, and yet patience.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, are you — I know you're talking to people all day long on the Hill.

    Picking up any sense of that something could derail this? Because, going in, the sense where she probably was going to be confirmed.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    No, I will tell you, an office that actually opposes her nomination said, no, we don't think that she's being derailed.

    And I can also back Marcia up. Our question count right now — listen to this — 263 questions for this woman today so far.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, nothing, nothing — so, Marcia, as we as we think about tomorrow, another round of questions, what more do you think we're going to hear, we could hear?

  • Marcia Coyle:

    Yes, I think we're one — area that I think the Republicans want to ask has to do with her recusal, stepping aside, why she steps aside from certain cases, because they're very focused on next Supreme Court term, when the court considers an affirmative action case involving Harvard and her relationship with Harvard and whether she would step aside from that case.

    Also, I think we're going to hear more about other types of opinions that she's written, environment, labor, maybe some political ones involving the Trump administration as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two-hundred-plus questions to go, as Lisa just said, and many more to go.

    Marcia Coyle, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.

  • Marcia Coyle:

    You're welcome, Judy.

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