The U.S. Senate voted 53 to 47 on Thursday to confirm Judge Ketanji brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. She will be the first Black woman and first former public defender to serve on the country’s top court. While Jackson’s confirmation was a “monumental moment in United States history,” it was undercut by the “shameful spectacle” of Republican senators behaving disrespectfully toward Jackson, says law professor Michele Goodwin. She says that three decades on, the confirmation process has not been completed after Anita Hill was subjected to hostile questioning.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.
AMY GOODMAN:Thursday’s historic vote by Congress confirmed federal appeals judge Ketanji Brown Jones to the U.S. Supreme Court. She is the first Black woman to serve on the court and the first public defense attorney to do so in its more than 220-year history. As vice president of the Senate, Kamala Harris, the first Black woman, presided over the vote.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS:This vote shows that 53 yeas voted for the nomination, while 47 voted against it.
AMY GOODMAN: Three Republican senators supported Jackson’s confirmation: Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney. The only Black Republican senator, Tim Scott, cast a “no” vote. The final vote was delayed because Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, was absent. He eventually voted from the Senate’s cloakroom because he didn’t meet the Senate dress code of wearing a tie. In fact, he was wearing a windbreaker. Three other Republican senators also voted “no” from the cloakroom in casual attire: Jim Inhofe, Jerry Moran and Lindsey Graham, who was seen wearing a tie earlier in the day at a press conference but had changed into a polo shirt.
Judge Jackson’s confirmation followed four days of Senate hearings last month, when she described how her parents had faced racial segregation, and said her path was clearer now because of civil rights laws. Republicans used the confirmation hearings to raise issues that are not on the court’s docket, like critical race theory. They also questioned her sentencing records, including the light sentences she gave in child pornography cases. Democrats pointed out that these sentences were in line with other judges.
Judge Jackson is currently on the D.C. Court of Appeals. He will take over as the 116th Supreme Court justice this summer, after Justice Stephen Breyer leaves. Yes, again, for the first time in the court’s 232-year history, white men will soon be in the minority on the high court. The court’s balance of power will remain the same, with six justices appointed by Republicans and three by Democrats.
For more on Judge Jackson’s historic confirmation to become Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, we’re joined by Michele Goodwin, chancellor’s professor at the University of California, Irvine, founding director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy. She’s the host of the Ms. magazine podcast Michele Goodwin discusses the IssuesAuthor of Policing The Womb: Invisible Women, and the Criminalization Of Motherhood. She’s joining us from Boulder, Colorado.
Welcoming to Democracy Now!Professor Goodwin, thank you. First, your response to “herstory” being made?
MICHELE GOODWIN:Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
This is a significant moment in American history. As you’ve just mentioned, in over 230 years, there has never been a Black woman on the court. Now, let’s be clear: There has never been any Indigenous people on the court or Asian people on the court. Only five women have ever served on the United States Supreme Court. And let’s let that sink in. Of 115 justices — she will be the 116th — there have only been five. And, in fact, it’s been this U.S. Supreme Court that’s upheld laws that even forbade women from becoming attorneys. This is history-making at so many different levels.
And there’s much more that we’ll unpack in terms of what she experienced during the confirmation hearings, but this is a moment to celebrate. But it’s also a moment in our history to think and reflect on Senate members of the Judiciary Committee, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who are so deeply concerned about critical race history but made it themselves in their conduct, in contemporary conduct. It is not necessary to consult any books on critical-race theory to see the behavior of some Senate Judiciary Committee members and to ask, based on such behavior, whether this kind of history was also being made.
AMY GOODMAN:I wanted to go on a Washington Post op-ed Thursday headlined “The Senate Judiciary Committee mistreated Judge Jackson. I should know.” Anita Hill wrote about how, during the confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991, quote, “I was subjected to attacks on my intelligence, truthfulness and even my sanity when I testified about my experience working for the nominee at the Education Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”
Hill continued, quote, “In some ways, the committee has changed for the better since then: There are now four women on the panel and one Black member. … Even so, I was shocked by the interrogation of Jackson, a nominee with stellar credentials and more judicial experience than any of the sitting justices when they were nominated. It was obvious that no matter how composed, respectful or brilliant her responses, her critics’ only goal was to discredit her.”
Anita Hill went on to say, “It shouldn’t be this way, and it doesn’t have to. The committee should adopt — and enforce — standards such as those that exist for taking testimony in federal court proceedings. Questions should be relevant and well-founded. Witness-badgering should not be tolerated.”
Can you respond? These are the words again of Anita Hill.
MICHELE GOODWIN: That’s right. So, we’re just coming off of about 30 years since professor Anita Hill offered witness testimony in the confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas, then-Judge Thomas, and was treated to a badgering, was treated to what some might call a flogging, for coming forward with information about sexual misconduct while a person was in office, Justice Thomas now. Many people can relate to Anita Hill’s experiences. After that, there was a surge in women running for Congress. There was a certain amount of loathing and seething that she felt about her experience.
And I think we’ve seen that even now, because the polling has suggested that Judge Jackson is the most popular person to have been nominated and go through this confirmation process in more than a generation. I believe the American people witnessed something they found abhorrent. And to be clear, I’m not sure that there are new rules that are necessary — perhaps there really should be — in order for that kind of conduct to have been brought in line through the use of the gavel. It was supposed to be a rigorous, but not disrespectful process. And really it demeaned the expectations and the professionalism of the Senate, of the Senate Judiciary Committee — and, yesterday, of the Senate itself, with members showing up casually and not being able to enter chambers.
AMY GOODMAN:This is an interesting point. You may have wondered why I was referring to blue polo shirts or windbreakers. There’s a rule — right? — on the Senate floor that the men have to wear suits and ties. And so, if they don’t, they vote from the cloakroom. And so, you had Lindsey Graham, even Senator Paul, as they waited for him — what was it? — for almost half an hour, they just poked their head in, because they can’t step out onto the floor, and they do a thumbs down. Can you explain what this all means?
MICHELE GOODWIN: Well, I’m glad that you asked that question, Amy, because what we saw was spectacle. We saw spectacle in confirmation hearings, as well as spectacle in voting. And to understand this, it’s worth thinking about this in historical context, because we’ve not necessarily seen historical interruption. If you think about it, there’s never been a time that’s been truly affirmative in United States history, that’s been that deep apology to Black women for the horrific treatment that they experienced during slavery, for that demeaning and awful experience that they had during Jim Crow, which is memorialized. As much as anybody wouldn’t want to read books on history now or race, it’s all been memorialized through video images of Jim Crow. And there’s never been that moment to stop and say, “My goodness, this was so horrific, and we owe deep, deep apologies for institutions carrying out segregation, racist behavior, discriminatory behavior, violent behavior.” The violence of lynching befell not only Black men, but black women, too, with people surrounding and having picnics and all of that. That’s U.S. history, the spectacle of beating Black women as they’re fighting for equal wages and to stop patterns of discrimination involving education and so forth. We saw the modern spectacle again, even with a Harvard Law School-educated woman who clerked at all levels in the federal judiciary.
But I think that there’s also something that the American public saw, which is that, in the past, when we saw this even through U.S. jurisprudence, the narrative was that Black people could never be qualified. Black people couldn’t even be qualified for citizenship. We saw the falsity in the narrative about merit. Even with the most qualified Black woman, merit is still lost. And the conduct continues. To be clear, this should not be conduct that anyone should be subjected too. Judge Jackson’s experience has dispelled many stereotypes that Black people are not worthy of this kind of treatment or deserving of being elevated. One just couldn’t reconcile it, given the behavior that we saw, and also given her great poise and accomplishments.
AMY GOODMAN:When the vote actually took place, and Vice President Harris was the first African American vice president, the applause was overwhelming. There was a standing ovation from the Democrats and a few Republicans like Romney at the back but most Republicans walked out.
MICHELE GOODWIN:It is also spectacle. And it’s such a shameful spectacle, because history records this. But let’s be clear: This is not the Republican Party that most people knew, even if people would have disagreed with certain Republican policies, let’s say, a decade or two decades ago. I remind you that Roe v. Wade, for example, was a 7-to-2 opinion, so not close, but five of those seven justices were Republican-appointed. Richard Nixon put Justice Blackmun on the court. Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. Bush was the treasurer at Planned Parenthood.
The Republican Party is not what we see today. What we see today is a configuration, a group of people who now are identified as Republican but don’t even have the values of what Republicans had 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago. They don’t have the voting records of what Republicans had. Republicans used to support reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, and there’s much more that we could get into with regard to that. So, what we’re seeing today is something that I think Republicans 20 years ago would call shameful.
AMY GOODMAN:I mean, in fact: when RBGRuth Bader Ginsburg spoke extensively about her support of abortion at her confirmation hearing. She had a heated exchange with Utah Senator Hatch who was strongly against abortion.
MICHELE GOODWIN: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN:I think, ultimately, I am referring to her overwhelming vote for, I think also including Hatch.
MICHELE GOODWIN: That’s absolutely right. And, in fact, one of the things that’s so disappointing about these confirmation hearings is that when you look at that record — and I have the C-SPAN videos, the transcripts — of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her confirmation hearings, they were terrific. They were modelled. They were meticulous. We had the opportunity to learn more about her. For example, how her practice experience influenced her decision to become a justice. Who were her favorite Supreme Court justices? What was her personal life like and how it shaped her as a judge. She was able talk about her work at The. ACLUFor example, She was able to talk about how, as a judge, she’d regularly visit the Washington, D.C., jails and actually took her clerks there and explained she never wanted to be far removed from the experiences of average Americans who ended up in the criminal justice system. She spoke about how much Justice Thurgood Marshall and Justice Brennan she admired. All of this came out beautifully, brilliantly. It was incredible to watch as Americans.
We didn’t get that opportunity with Judge Jackson at all. It was a shame given her brilliance and the fact she will be the first person to have served as a public defense, a federal attorney, to serve as a United States Supreme Court justice. And we just really didn’t get this opportunity, that would have been a benefit for all Americans to hear about, including coming from the American South and what that must have meant to her family, more than being the first African American woman in this position, but just simply what it really means to have grown up in the South, for her parents, and what that means in thinking about justice in the United States.