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Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson are underway

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Senate Judiciary Committee began hearings today on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman on the court as well as one of a record four female justices serving at the same time. Joining us now is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Hey, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hey there, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Nina, how did this first day go for her?

TOTENBERG: Look. This was her easy day. She spent most of this morning and afternoon looking pleasant and interested, even smiling as the 22 members of the Judiciary Committee made their opening remarks. And then in the end, it was her turn. As she said when President Biden announced her nomination, the very first thing she said was that she thanked God for her blessings - being born in modern times, in a nation where civil rights laws had changed life in Florida, where her parents were from originally, so much that they returned to live there. And she spoke about the influence of her family and mentors, singling out the man she would replace on the court if she's confirmed, Justice Stephen Breyer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: It is extremely humbling to be considered for Justice Breyer's seat. And I know that I could never fill his shoes, but if confirmed, I would hope to carry on his spirit.

TOTENBERG: She told the senators that she would strive to do her job impartially, noting that she's been a judge for nearly a decade now and that she takes her responsibility very seriously, an important point because of some of the pointed statements from Republican lawmakers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BROWN JACKSON: I have been a judge for nearly a decade now, and I take that responsibility and my duty to be independent very seriously. 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, consistent with my judicial oath.

SUMMERS: Nina, aside from that opening statement, what else stood out to you from this first day of the hearing?

TOTENBERG: Well, Senator Lindsey Graham, who often votes for Democratic nominees because he thinks it's the president's prerogative to name people to the courts as long as they're qualified and, as the senator's always put it, in the mainstream. But today he was a senator with a grievance because the nominee that he had supported - Judge Michelle Childs from South Carolina, who's also African American - was not chosen. And while he voted for Jackson's confirmation to the Court of Appeals just months ago, it sure didn't sound like he was going to do it this time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: There's been a wholesale effort of the left to take down a nominee from my state, and I don't like it very much.

SUMMERS: So what about that, Nina? Is he right? Was there a wholesale effort from the left?

TOTENBERG: I think the short answer to that is probably not. It was always my understanding that Judge Jackson had the inside track, that she was the leading candidate from the get-go. And while Senator Graham said that Judge Childs would have gotten 60-plus votes, I think that's probably a bit doubtful. He also said that because Judge Childs was not chosen, we are now facing a choice sponsored by the most radical elements of the left. So he was trying to attach to Judge Jackson the views of some of the people who supported her, some of whom really are quite left. But I don't think that, at any time, Judge Childs was really going to get the nomination. She had the support of the Democratic whip in the House, and he was very aggressive about supporting her, as you might expect. But I never thought that was going to work.

SUMMERS: All right. That's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. We'll be following your coverage all week. Thank you.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMPRESARIOS' "SIESTA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: March 21, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT