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Jackson's confirmation hearing devolved into bickering among senators

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is the final day of Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. Outside witnesses will testify on her personal and professional background. Yesterday was the last day senators had to question Judge Jackson publically. It devolved into bickering as Republicans repeatedly returned to Judge Jackson's sentencing decisions on a small number of cases involving child pornography. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley asked Jackson if she regretted those decisions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell joins us this morning. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.

MARTIN: Let's start with that, these sentences that she gave out over the small number of child pornography cases. How did this become central in these hearings?

SNELL: Well, it started with Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, who started talking about this last week, well before the hearings began. They're talking about about six or seven cases out of over a hundred sentences she handed down, and Republicans say she gave unusually low sentences. You know, it started out with most Republicans ignoring it, but it picked up pace when Republicans like Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina started repeating the theme, which, I should say, has also become popular in the QAnon conspiracy movement and fits with the broader message that Democrats are soft on crime. You know, their claims about her record have been repeatedly debunked and criticized. Legal scholars, including prominent conservatives, say her sentences were in line with other federal judges in similar cases.

MARTIN: So how did Democrats - the Democratic senators on the committee respond?

SNELL: They didn't want to legitimize the claims, but they were forced to respond. Democrats really struggled to reclaim the message until Cory Booker, the only Black person on the committee, took his turn and talked about Jackson's figure as an inspiration.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CORY BOOKER: Nobody's going to steal the joy of that woman in the street or the calls that I'm getting or the texts. Nobody's going to steal that joy. You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.

SNELL: It was a really emotional moment, and both he and Jackson teared up at that time.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Thank you, Kelsey. We appreciate it.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.