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High court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson exudes competence, says Judge Selya


If Ketanji Brown Jackson is confirmed, she'll replace 83-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer, for whom she previously clerked. I spoke to the person who recommended her for that job, Judge Bruce Selya, the senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals and a longtime friend of the Supreme Court nominee.

Judge Selya, Ketanji Brown Jackson is no stranger to congressional scrutiny, as she's appeared in front of the Judicial Committee before, earning bipartisan support. This time around, however, is very different, so how do you think she'll handle Congressional partisanship?

BRUCE SELYA: I think that no matter what a particular senator's political beliefs are, I think that the members of the Judiciary Committee will not be able to help themselves. They will be impressed by her directness, by her responsiveness, and by the fact that this is a woman who exudes competence. I think she will come across that way, which I believe will make a favorable impression, not only upon many of the senators, but also upon the wider television audience that will be watching.

MARTÍNEZ: And that's the difference, right? That's the difference this time around, in that other confirmation hearings are typically not on national television where millions of people will be watching, and the stakes aren't as high because you don't have senators trying to make some kind of political statement or make some kind of early run for some kind of nomination down the line. That's going to be different this time around for Judge Jackson.

SELYA: Oh, it will. And it is unfortunate that the Supreme Court confirmation process has become highly partisan. But I think that what we have in modern times - some of those Supreme Court confirmations are ugly, and others are really ugly. And I think hers is likely to be in the former class, mainly because I see absolutely nothing in her record, her background, her character that presents any basis for a fair attack on her.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, I think it can be expected that Republicans will go after Jackson in the coming days. GOP Senator Josh Hawley showed a bit of a glimpse of that when he tried to discredit her on Twitter, saying that she is soft on crime. Judge, what would you say to senators who want to go that route on her - attack her record on crime?

SELYA: I think a fair assessment of Judge Jackson's record on criminal justice issues would not lead a fair-minded person to conclude that she's soft on crime. But I think the members of the committee are well within their rights to inquire about her position on criminal justice issues and her record on criminal justice issues. I just don't think she's got anything to shy away from.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Jackson is also poised to be the first former public defender to sit on the Supreme Court. How do you think that would add to what the court already does?

SELYA: Well, I think diversity in every way is important, and part of that diversity is understanding criminal law issues from the point of view of the defense. You have at least one member of the Supreme Court who has extensive criminal law experience as a prosecutor. And I think that type of diversity is helpful to the court. You don't want to get a Supreme Court where everyone starts out from an identical background.

MARTÍNEZ: Is there anything from when she was working with you back then that you could see back then that would maybe give us a sense of what she is today?

SELYA: I remember being very impressed by her writing, but perhaps even more impressed by two other things. She's a very good listener, and she gets the big picture and understands where particular legal issues fit in the overall scheme of things. And she proved to be an excellent law clerk and a pleasure to work with.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Judge Bruce Selya, senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Judge, thank you very much.

SELYA: My pleasure. Have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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