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Sen. Graham grilled Judge Jackson on day 2 of Supreme Court confirmation hearings


Day two of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson were marked by lots of measured questioning and one Senator Lindsey Graham losing his cool. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg joins us now. Hey, Nina.


SHAPIRO: All right. Let's start with the beginning of the day because for the first couple hours, the questioning was fairly subdued, right?

TOTENBERG: Yes, but not boring. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin led off by giving Jackson a chance to answer some of the charges leveled against her by Republicans - charges that she sentenced people accused of child pornography to prison terms lower than recommended by prosecutors and by the federal guidelines. Jackson said that she had followed the recommendations of both prosecutors and the probation office, which compiles pre-sentence reports. And she stressed her first concern is for the victims.


KETANJI BROWN JACKSON: When I look in the eyes of a defendant who is weeping because I'm giving him a significant sentence, what I say to him is, do you know that there is someone who has written to me and who has told me that she has developed agoraphobia? She cannot leave her house because she thinks that everyone she meets will have seen her - will have seen her pictures on the internet. They're out there forever.

TOTENBERG: That answer didn't satisfy Senator Ted Cruz, who, in addition to challenging her sentencing record, went after her service on the board of the Georgetown Day School, a private school in Washington that started in the 1940s to promote Black and white kids going to school together at a time when the city's schools were segregated. The curriculum, he said, is overflowing with critical race theory.


TED CRUZ: Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racist?

JACKSON: Senator, my understanding is that critical race theory as an academic theory is taught in law schools and Georgetown Day School, just like the religious school that Justice Barrett was on the board of, is a private school.

TOTENBERG: A private primary and secondary school at which she said the board of directors does not control the curriculum.

SHAPIRO: And there were more fireworks from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Tell us about what happened there.

TOTENBERG: Well, Graham focused on Judge Jackson's representation of Guantanamo detainees when she was a public defender and a private lawyer.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: Did you support then the idea that indefinite detention of an enemy combatant is unlawful?

JACKSON: Respectfully, Senator, when you are an attorney and you have clients, you represent their positions before the court.

GRAHAM: If that brief had been accepted by the court, it would be impossible for us to fight this war.

TOTENBERG: Judge Jackson refused to take the bait, repeatedly insisting that making a legal argument is not the same as embracing it personally. And she pointed to Chief Justice John Roberts, who at his confirmation hearing said essentially the same thing. An apparently frustrated Graham, his teeth actually bared, seemed to get angrier and angrier as he moved from topic to topic.


GRAHAM: Every group that wants to pack the court, that believes this court is a bunch of right-wing nuts that are going to destroy America, that consider the Constitution trash, all wanted you picked.

TOTENBERG: And having said that and a bit more, he stalked out of the room.

SHAPIRO: What's this all about, Nina?

TOTENBERG: Well, look, there's a great deal of this that's just posturing and politics on both sides. That doesn't mean that Democratic and Republican senators aren't very different in what kind of a judge they want to see on the Supreme Court. But Republicans are having trouble so far portraying this nominee as some sort of an outlier when she's received the highest rating of the American Bar Association, has the endorsement of a couple of dozen former GOP-appointed judges and conservative officeholders, in addition to the endorsement of the leading police union.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Nina Totenberg. Thanks for your reporting.

TOTENBERG: Thanks. 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.
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