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Reactions to Biden's historic Supreme Court justice pick

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden introduced his first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'm pleased to nominate Judge Jackson, who'll bring extraordinary qualifications, deep experience and intellect and a rigorous judicial record to the court.

CHANG: The announcement came after weeks of anticipation on who would replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who said he would retire from the court at the end of this term. Well, joining us now to talk about Judge Jackson and what she's likely to face in the confirmation process are NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg and NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Hey to both of you.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hello.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: All right, Nina, let's start with you. What about this announcement today stood out to you?

TOTENBURG: Well, on the one hand, this was really a very moving ceremony, but it also touched all the political bases, from the invocation of God and faith at the beginning of Judge Ketanji Jackson's remarks to President Biden noting that she'd been endorsed by the - and President Biden noted that she'd been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.

There were hints earlier today that Republicans were preparing to paint Judge Jackson as a radical choice, and some may continue to do that, but as the day wore on, the tone just seemed to shift. Judge Jackson has a lot of conservative friends in the legal community. In fact, she's even related by marriage to former Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan...

CHANG: Oh, wow.

TOTENBURG: ...Who tweeted a statement saying - he said in his statement, our politics may differ, but my praise for Ketanji's intellect, her character and her integrity is unequivocal.

CHANG: Interesting. So tell us a little more about Judge Jackson.

TOTENBURG: Look, she has all the bells and whistles of qualification. But she also has an incredibly varied career history. She's the first Supreme Court justice since Thurgood Marshall who spent much of her career representing indigent criminal defendants. She also served as vice chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission at a time that the commission unanimously and dramatically reduced the draconian penalties that had been put in place for crack cocaine offenses, penalties that disproportionately affected Black and brown defendants, while powder cocaine offenders got much shorter sentences.

She's a very experienced judge, having spent eight years as a trial court judge prior to her elevation to the appeals court in D.C. last year. In fact, here's a trivia point - if she's confirmed, she will have been a judge for longer than four of the current justices when they were appointed, including the Chief Justice.

CHANG: Well, that's fascinating.

Well, Kelsey, let me bring you in here. Obviously, the next step is Judge Jackson's confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. What are you hearing on the Hill right now? Like, do we have any sense of how quickly or slowly Jackson's nomination could move?

SNELL: Well, I understand that the White House has been already coordinating with the Senate Judiciary Committee and with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on how to make things move quickly because, you know, President Biden says he wants the same kind of timeline as Republicans used for Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and that was about a month from the...

CHANG: Right.

SNELL: ...Date of the announcement to the confirmation vote. So this usually involves, you know, meetings with senators and vetting documents. That moves on to hearings that typically last several days before a committee vote and then eventually a confirmation vote on the floor. That could take a long time.

But in this case, they have a lot working for them in terms of what they know about Jackson. This will be her fourth confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, so they know her. And the last time was just last April. So the committee members have a lot of knowledge about her background and have already had an opportunity to ask her a lot of questions.

It's also interesting that she got bipartisan support last year when she was nominated for the appellate court. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska all voted for her confirmation.

CHANG: True.

TOTENBURG: You know, that's...

CHANG: But Nina, she had some critics too, right?

TOTENBURG: Yes. She got quite a grilling from conservative senators during her nomination to the D.C. Circuit last year. Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican, for instance asked whether she thinks that the U.S. criminal justice system is systemically racist. And she replied by saying, those are not terms that I use in the law when we look at issues of race and adding that there is no Supreme Court doctrine that speaks to systemic racism.

She's similarly managed to deflect questions about the fact that she had filed a friend of the court brief in a Guantanamo case on behalf of a bunch of judges who wanted to make the point that when evidence is gathered through torture, it should not be admitted at trial. So she did pretty well.

CHANG: Right.

TOTENBURG: But it's going to be tougher.

CHANG: Exactly, because a Supreme Court nomination has much higher stakes. And Kelsey, I want to bring you in here. Does it seem like the bipartisanship that Jackson did get in the past will continue now that we are looking at a lifetime appointment to the highest court?

SNELL: Well...

CHANG: It's a different ball game.

SNELL: Right, it's very different. And, you know, some Republican statements left room for themselves to support Jackson. Senator Collins and Mitt Romney of Utah in particular opened themselves up to that.

But Republicans are still - there are still plenty who are opposed. You know, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell put out a statement saying he voted against Jackson last year and raised questions about her judicial rulings and said that he understands that Jackson was, quote, "the favorite choice of the far-left dark-money groups."

CHANG: That is NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell and NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Thank you to both of you.

SNELL: Thanks for having us.

TOTENBURG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
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.