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Watching Ketanji Brown Jackson's brutal confirmation hearings


Today is the final day of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation hearing. For four days, she has sat before members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as they consider her nomination to the Supreme Court. Earlier this month, we went to the steps of the nation's highest court, where Black women were gathering to show their support for Judge Jackson ahead of her hearing. That's where we met Petee Talley. When we asked her why she'd come, this is what she told us.

PETEE TALLEY: Because we know those hearings are going to start, and we know that there could be games that are played. I think they're going to try to eviscerate her reputation. And we just want to say, no. Enough is enough.

SUMMERS: As the confirmation hearings come to a close, we wanted to reach back out to Petee Talley. And she's joining us from Toledo, Ohio. Hey there. It is so nice to talk with you again.

TALLEY: Thank you for having me. I appreciate being here.

SUMMERS: Thank you for being here. Petee, when we met a couple of weeks ago, before these hearings began, you told me that above all else, you wanted them to be fair. Have the hearings been fair?

TALLEY: Well, I thought they were going to be when they started out. And some of the senators were saying this will be unlike, you know, whatever they presumed were attacks on previous nominees, that they were not going to do any of that. But then the more we listened, the more that became - my concern became true. My fears were actually realized.

SUMMERS: Can you give me a couple of examples? Are there any specific moments that stick out in your mind?

TALLEY: Yeah. I mean, I was watching Senator Cruz when he rolled out his big poster board and talked about, you know, children being painted as racist...


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


TALLEY: ...On the question of the critical race theory and really pressing that issue. And as much as the judge continued to tell him that, you know, that is not something that she would be ruling on as a judge or has nothing to do with her qualifications, he just continued on with this whole presentation or production, if you will, of painting her as someone who supports critical race theory and that somehow her being on the bench is going to further that very divisive issue.

SUMMERS: Just speaking broadly, I am really curious what you made of the tone of the hearings. There were a number of tense moments, even some where you saw the tempers of some senators flare. I'm thinking specifically of some of the moments in which Judge Jackson was being questioned by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

TALLEY: Yeah. Some of it seemed like theatrics. Some of it seemed like they were trying to score points with a certain base of voters or positioning for messages that they could use in a political campaign. Some of it seemed like that because the questioning really had nothing to do with why they were there - to find out what her temperament would be as a justice, how she would conduct herself, whether or not she would uphold the Constitution. Even when some of the senators were questioning Chairman Durbin on continuing to try to force her to answer questions, it just seems like political theatrics. And so I'm hopeful that the entire Senate will see through that in some way and that she is able to get bipartisan support to be confirmed.

SUMMERS: I want to ask you about Judge Jackson herself. When you looked at her, what did you see?

TALLEY: I saw in her what I see many women, particularly Black women - someone who has taken the time and been deliberate about their choices in life in terms of their professional careers. And so as I was watching her in that seat yesterday, I thought, she is so representative of so many of us. But then, you know, reality sunk in. And when the questioning started happening, that was so egregious. It also reminded me of what we as Black women have to go through. We have to be three times as better as anyone else. And we are often in these occupations and these rooms where we're the only one. And our perspective is not always appreciated. And so we have to either make a decision to assimilate or to stand strong, and I'm so glad she stood strong. And she made all of us so very proud yesterday, over the past three days.

SUMMERS: I cannot let you go without asking about one other moment in the hearing that happened yesterday. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who is the only Black senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of only a handful of Black senators in the Senate right now - he moved Judge Jackson to tears. And the thing that he kept saying that stuck with me is, I'm not letting anybody steal my joy.

TALLEY: That was very heartwarming. I think her being moved to tears really kind of sat with her that she was in this moment not just for herself but for a whole race of people. And we should not, as Senator Booker says, allow anyone to take the joy of this moment away from what we are all experiencing as having the first Black woman to be considered.

SUMMERS: Petee Talley in Toledo, Ohio. Thank you so much for talking with us today.

TALLEY: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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