Supporting Judge Jackson’s Nomination to the Supreme Court
Remarks on the Senate Floor.
I rise tonight to support Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to serve as an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court.
Judge Jackson comes to this floor with impeccable credentials. She graduated from Harvard magna cum laude. She graduated with honors from Harvard Law School, where she edited the Harvard Law Review.
After graduation, Judge Jackson worked at top firms in private practice and secured three prestigious clerkships, including one for Justice Breyer on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Later, she served as a public defender representing people who couldn’t afford a lawyer.
I can’t think of better evidence of her commitment to equal justice under the law, where everyone — regardless of their means — has the right to fair representation.
Judge Jackson is clearly qualified for this position, there’s nobody who doubts that. My colleagues know it, because the Senate has confirmed her three times with bipartisan support.
First, to serve as Vice Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Second, for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
And last, for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Taken together, Judge Jackson comes to this floor with the best legal training America can offer, a decade of experience on the federal bench, and a consistent record of bipartisan support here on this floor.
I had the opportunity to meet with Judge Jackson two weeks ago, after she had been rolled around in the barrel, is one way of saying it, during the confirmation hearings that people all over the country watched.
And in our conversation, after she had been through all of that turmoil, she told me about how her parents had attended segregated schools in Miami before working as public school teachers here in Washington, D.C.
Her dad went on to be a lawyer, a lawyer for the Miami School District, something I appreciate having been a superintendent of schools.
Unlike her parents, Judge Jackson grew up in America after the Civil Rights laws of the 1960s — and she remembered how hard her parents worked every single day to give her opportunities they never even dreamed of for themselves.
And she seized those opportunities. She earned top grades. She was elected student body president.
But when she told her guidance counselor she wanted to apply to Harvard, the counselor warned she shouldn’t set her “sights so high.”
Fortunately for America, she set her sights high — she set her sights where they should have been set.
She followed the high example of her parents, working hard and impressing everyone along the way — friends, colleagues, and mentors who are virtually beating down the doors of this chamber to tell us what a thoughtful, fair-minded, and principled justice she would be.
That hasn’t stopped some colleagues from distorting her record to suggest that she’s somehow soft on crime.
That, Mr. President, would come as news, I think, to the Fraternal Order of Police who have endorsed her candidacy for the Court. It would come as news to the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Both have endorsed her nomination.
They see what’s obvious to anyone who fairly reviews her record, which is that Judge Jackson has spent her entire career devoted to the rule of law.
Her brother and two uncles served as police officers, so law enforcement isn’t some academic abstraction for her — it’s literally her family.
The presiding officer knows something about that, I think, in his family history as well.
In our meeting, I asked Judge Jackson what makes a good judge. We had a long talk about that. But one of the things she said was communication, because judges have to explain their reasoning in every decision, which is a lot more than I can say for the United States Senate.
She also said that it’s the unique role of a judge to identify and to extract their bias before every case. And if you look at her more than 570 written decisions, it’s clear how seriously she takes that responsibility.
I was just on the phone with some people from Colorado before I came over here, Mr. President. And I said to them, I told them I was coming out here to give this speech, and I said to them, these are old, old friends of mine, that I can’t remember a time when I sat down with somebody and had a 30 minute conversation where I came away more impressed than I was by Judge Jackson.
I found her to be both brilliant and completely down to earth, which is, I think, a particularly important combination for a judge at any level, at any level — to have both the intellect to grapple with the nuances of the law, and the experience to appreciate how it affects real people.
It wasn’t that long ago, Mr. President, that Judge Jackson would have received over 90 votes on this floor — just like her mentor Justice Breyer did. Just like qualified judges did when I was in law school myself.
The Senate confirmed Justice Breyer 96 to 3, just like we confirmed Justice Scalia 98 to 0. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor got 9 to nothing. Somebody was out that day. I guarantee you they would have voted for her if they had been here.
Each time that happened, Mr. President, the Senate reinforced the independence of the judiciary, set aside our partisan politics, and stood up for, I think, for integrity and for the rule of law.
And I am sad, I am sad tonight that, Judge Jackson won’t get 99 votes tomorrow — even though she deserves it.
And that’s not a reflection on her. As I said, if this were an earlier day in the Senate, she’d get 99 votes. She would’ve got 99 votes [if she’d] come in a different era. And it’s a reflection of how we as senators, and I among them, have shredded our constitutional responsibility to advise and consent.
And it’s my hope, Mr. President, by the time — I was going to say my children are adults, they really almost are adults. They are adults.
But by the time they’re standing, you know, by the time they’re running the country with everybody else who’s their generation, that we will have figured out a way to return the Senate to a place where we take our responsibility, our Constitutional responsibility to advise and consent seriously and we find a way to make it once again a bipartisan effort in this place — find a way to stitch ourselves back together again, and I’m prepared to work with anybody on the floor to try to do that.
But in the meantime, this really, in my view, is a moment to celebrate. It is a moment to celebrate.
In the last few weeks, my office has literally been flooded with messages from Coloradans telling me what an extraordinary judge Judge Jackson would make.
And they don’t have to persuade me. Judge Jackson is an inspiration to me, and to so many Americans. To millions and millions of Americans.
In the past few weeks, I couldn’t help imagine what it would mean to the students I used to work for in the Denver Public Schools to see Judge Jackson on the Court.
The same Court that once ruled in Dred Scott vs. Sanford that her ancestors were little more than property.
A court that codified in Plessy vs. Ferguson the segregated schools that her parents were forced to attend, and the segregated hotels, buses, and movie theaters they endured every single day, day after day.
And it’s a reminder that change is possible in America.
Our country isn’t perfect — far from it.
Our history has always been a battle between the highest ideals expressed in our constitution — and our worst impulses as human beings.
And if you look at our history, if you really look at our history, the path from cases like Dred Scott and Plessy to Brown and Obergefell was cleared — as it always is — by Americans who refused to give up on our highest ideals. Who insisted, as Dr. King once said, that we “make real the promise of our democracy.”
This week is a victory for our highest ideals, and for the promise of American democracy.
It’s a moment to celebrate a nation that, as Judge Jackson said, in one generation went from forcing her parents to live under Jim Crow, to elevating her to the highest court in the land.
After carefully reviewing her record, I believe that Judge Jackson will join the ranks of Earl Warren, Thurgood Marshall, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — justices who helped bridge the gap between the words written in our constitution and their reality in America today.
And I hope she will join the Court’s great dissenters — judges like Justice Harlan, who opposed decisions that outlawed the minimum wage, or Justices Roberts and Murphy, who refused to condone the internment of Japanese Americans in Colorado and across the country.
All of those judges stood, not for an ideology, but for the American values etched in our Constitution — freedom, equality, democracy, and the rule of law.
I am confident that Judge Jackson will stand for those values — fairly, impartially, and without prejudice.
And tomorrow, I will enthusiastically vote for her confirmation. I’d suggest that everybody in this chamber would have a good reason to vote for her confirmation, and I hope they’ll consider it.
And with that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.