KLOBUCHAR: “You have the experience and the record of a jurist dedicated to the equal application of the law, committed to consensus, and determined to make sure that the law and the Constitution work for the people of today”
WASHINGTON - Today, on the first day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing to consider the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) delivered her opening statement, highlighting Judge Jackson’s broad qualifications and how her experience will enable her to ensure the law and the Constitution remains ‘workable’ for the American people.
Klobuchar emphasized how Judge Jackson will live up to Justice Stephen Breyer’s commitment to interpret the Constitution in a way that works for the American people: “Judge, I believe you have exactly the sort of understanding of what the law means in people's lives that Americans would want in a justice…you have the experience and record of a jurist who is dedicated to the fair application of the law, committed to consensus, and determined to make sure that the Court and the Constitution work for the people of today. ”
“Judge Jackson, I am confident you will come to the bench as a justice with a bedrock appreciation of what the Constitution and the law means to America, with a real-world perspective we need,” Klobuchar continued.
Klobuchar also underscored Jackson’s broad experience working to “apply the law at every level of the judicial system,” emphasizing how Jackson’s background as a former public defender, and the sister and niece of law enforcement officials provide her with an understanding of “what it means for a person to put their life on the line to defend the rule of law…and understands that for our justice system to truly be workable, it must account for those who lack the resources to defend themselves.” Additionally, Klobuchar highlighted Jackson’s nine years of judicial experience, more than four current justices had when they were nominated to the Court.
Thank you very much Chair Durbin and Ranking Member Grassley. Judge Jackson, welcome. We met recently in my office, and we have seen you in this committee before, and we’re so happy to have you back.
If Senator Whitehouse is pleased that you once clerked for a Rhode Island judge, we in Minnesota are equally happy that you are wearing bold purple today, winning over both Prince and Minnesota Vikings fans the world over.
I’d like to welcome your husband, Patrick, and your two daughters, and your other family members and friends. It is clear that your family, starting with your parents who I got to meet who are sitting there in the front row – who once worked as teachers – that your family has been a constant source of inspiration and support for you. My mom taught second grade until she was 70 years old, so I know firsthand it is pretty great to have a parent who is also a teacher, and they never stop checking your spelling.
As a lawyer who also balanced work with parenthood myself, I particularly enjoyed your story, Judge, about sitting with your dad. You had a coloring book, and he was studying his law books. While these hearings are truly an opportunity, as my colleagues have pointed out, for Americans to get to know your legal acumen, we also learn about your background, your experiences, your values, and for so many of us, including people watching this hearing across the country, our values start with our family. There is something else particularly special about this hearing of course. You have been nominated by President Biden as the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. That is historic.
With 115 justices having served so far in our history, you are the first black woman, and it’s long past time. In fact, this entire hearing is about opening things up. The hearing room, we have opened it with actual guests for the first time in a while, and you are opening up the Senate and the Court by virtue of your very presence. You, Judge, are opening a door that’s long been shut to many, and by virtue of your strong presence, your skills, your experience, you are showing so many little girls and little boys across the country that anything and everything is possible. We are here to carry out one of this committee's most solemn constitutional obligations, to advise and consent on President Biden's nomination to the Supreme Court. But this is also a time for us to consider the Supreme Court’s place in our democracy and how it impacts people.
You have been nominated to Justice Breyer's seat. You clerked for him, and I know he has been, and is, a wonderful mentor to you. I would like to start with his words. Justice Breyer once wrote that the Supreme Court must help maintain public acceptance of its own legitimacy. He said, "It can do this best by helping ensure that the Constitution remains workable in a broad sense of the term. Specifically it can and should interpret the Constitution in a way that works for the people of today." Making it work for the people of today. Those words, his words, are highly relevant to the Court. And Justice Breyer did not just write about those values. In his 27 years on the Court he lived them. He approached cases with a pragmatic view of the law and he understood that reverence to the Constitution requires not just a respect for the past, although it does that, but also an eye toward the future. As we are here to confirm a new justice for his seat, I urge my colleagues to remember his words about how the Court must consider the effect of its actions on people's lives. How it must be able to see the real people at the other end of the rulings. Like Americans who are one Supreme Court decision away from losing their health insurance, or one Court decision away from the ability to make their own health care choices, or the Dreamers who could lose the only country they have ever known, or the people who waited for hours in the rain one recent Election Day in Wisconsin, wearing garbage bags and homemade masks in the middle of what would soon become a global pandemic – just to cast a ballot, just to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
The Court decides cases with life-changing consequences for people. It makes decisions that dictate health and safety standards for workers, protections for seniors, and whether we can have clean air and clean water. The Supreme Court issues rulings that can determine who can make their voices heard in our democracy and how they can do it. So, Judge Jackson, this week I look forward to hearing more on your views about the real-world implications of the law and about how you will respect the Constitution and legal precedent, all the while striving to ensure we have a Court that works for the American people.
Judge, I believe you have exactly the sort of understanding of what the law means in people's lives that Americans would want in a justice. You are from a family that knows something about making it work. Both of your parents attended segregated primary schools and later became teachers. And when your dad set his sights on becoming a lawyer, your mom figured out how to support the family while he attended law school. After being a star debater in high school, you went on to graduate magna cum laude in college and went on to graduate with honors from law school. After law school, you clerked for federal judges nominated by both Democratic and Republican presidents, and of course, you had the honor of serving as a clerk to Justice Breyer.
These are not just lines on your resume. They show you have worked to apply the law at every level of the federal system. And beyond those credentials you have the perspectives of someone who has seen the law through the eyes of those closest to it. Your brother worked as a police officer in Baltimore. One of your uncles was a detective, and another was a Chief of Police of the City of Miami. You know what it means for a person to put their life on the line to defend the rule of law. It is no surprise to me that you received the letter that Senator Durbin mentioned, the letter of support from the Fraternal Order of Police. And as a former federal public defender, you also understand that for our justice system to be truly workable, it must account for those who lack the resources to defend themselves, and you would be the first justice to bring that experience to the Court.
Judge, I believe that it is because of your experience and respect for the law that the Senate has confirmed you three times with bipartisan support, as Vice Chair and Commissioner of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Judge on the D.C. District Court, and most recently the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In each of these roles, you have lived up to that bipartisan support. As a commissioner, over 90 percent of the votes you participated in were either unanimous or voice votes. As a District Court judge, you wrote nearly 600 opinions, applying the law and precedent to the facts fairly and impartially without regard to your personal views. I will note that if you are confirmed, you will join Justice Sotomayor as the only other Justice on the bench with experience as a trial court judge. As a Circuit Court judge, you have written decisions joined by judges appointed by presidents of both parties. Let's not forget you have nine years of judicial experience, more than four other justices currently on the Court prior to their confirmations–not that we’re counting. Judge Jackson, and I expect this to come through loud and clear during the hearings, you have the experience and record of a jurist who is dedicated to the fair application of the law, committed to consensus, and determined to make sure that the Court and the Constitution work for the people of today.
And one last point, Judge, your confirmation hearing comes at a moment in our history when the people of this country are once again seeing, this time in Ukraine, that democracy can never be taken for granted. Eternal vigilance, it’s been said, is the price of liberty. Last week I was at the Ukrainian-Polish border with refugees streaming through checkpoints, leaving everything they had behind with only a suitcase and a backpack, walking into the loving arms of their neighbors in Poland, a country with a long, hard history of having been invaded by Nazis and Russians and Prussians and Hapsburgs. As our Ambassador there told me, at this moment in history, the people of Poland are achieving the dreams their grandparents could never realize. They are saying to their Ukrainian neighbors: “We value freedom and respect your democracy. We value you so much that we will take you into our homes and into our hearts. We will open our doors and not shut you out.”
And this horrendous war against evil and the courage of the Ukrainian people is happening at the very same time our country is opening our minds after being separated through a two-year pandemic from our neighbors, not only around the world but in our own country, in our own towns. This moment bestows upon us a new opportunity to see one another again and to be part of our own democracy, to respect each other's rights and views, to see that we are not a nation of 300 plus million silos. Instead, we are a nation that must re-embrace the simple principle that unites us as Americans, and that is that our country is so much bigger in what unites us than what divides us. That’s the pivotal moment we are in. That’s your moment. It’s a time for us to consider what the courts mean to our democracy, to recall how the framers envisioned the Court to work as a ballast in our system of government, and to rededicate ourselves to this sacred protection of our rights and the upholding of our Constitution. So as we move forward with these hearings, let us be grounded in the central role of the Court and the Constitution in our democracy, of what it means to our system of government that we can never take for granted, and how we must always be vigilant that it is serving the people. Judge Jackson, I am confident you will come to the bench as a justice with a bedrock appreciation of what the Constitution and the law means to America, with a real-world perspective we need. Thank you for your willingness to serve at this important time.