On Wednesday, after all the Republicans had finished their infantile attempts to tie Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to anything and everything that they could think of to tear down her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Senator Cory Booker, a Black senator from New Jersey, gave the speech that brought tears to Judge Jackson, to onlookers, and to me as I watched the video clip from his impassioned speech. Here’s what one of my favourite columnists, Eugene Robinson, had to say about it in his column in The Washington Post, followed by a short clip from Booker’s speech.
Cory Booker cut through the GOP’s ugliness to celebrate Judge Jackson
By Eugene Robinson
24 March 2022
The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson have been rife with racism, sexism, feigned outrage and general ugliness. But Wednesday’s proceedings brought one moment of such powerful eloquence that it brought Jackson, and me, to tears. Thank you, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), for speaking truth and for celebrating this historic moment as it deserves to be marked.
Booker’s turn to question Jackson came toward the end of the session. She had been badgered all day by Republicans who pretended to be outraged by the sentences she imposed in several child pornography cases when she was a U.S. district court judge. Republican Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.) had been particularly obnoxious, interrupting Jackson repeatedly and trying their best not to let her defend herself.
Booker greeted Jackson with a broad smile. “Your family and you speak to service, service, service,” he began. “And I’m telling you right now, I’m not letting anybody in the Senate steal my joy. … I just look at you, and I start getting full of emotion.”
The senator said he had been jogging that morning when an African American woman, a stranger, “practically tackled” him to explain how much it meant to her to see Jackson sitting in the witness chair.
“And you did not get there because of some left-wing agenda,” Booker said. “You didn’t get here because of some ‘dark money’ groups. You got here how every Black woman in America who’s gotten anywhere has done. By being, like Ginger Rogers said, ‘I did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards, in heels.’ And so I’m just sitting here saying nobody’s stealing my joy. Nobody is going to make me angry.”
Booker noted that he was just the fourth African American to be popularly elected to the Senate, rather than appointed to his post or elected by a state legislature. He said that during his first week at the Capitol, an older Black man who worked on the cleaning crew came up to him and began crying. “And I just hugged him, and he just kept telling me, ‘It’s so good to see you here.’”
He said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who also is African American, understood what he meant. Booker and Scott are at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum — Booker a progressive Democrat, Scott a far-right Republican — but he credited Scott with having given “the best speech on race — I wish I could have given as good of a speech. … Talking of the challenges and indignities that are still faced. And you’re here.”
Booker recalled that during a meeting at the White House when President Biden was trying to decide whom to nominate, he and Vice President Harris exchanged the same “knowing glance” that they used to share when Harris was a senator and she sat next to Booker at Judiciary Committee hearings.
It is a glance that every successful African American is familiar with. It says: I know what you went through to get here. I know the hoops you had to jump through, the hurdles you had to surmount, the obstacles thrown into your path. I know you saw less talented White colleagues rise smoothly and steadily to the top while you had to prove your excellence time and again. I know that you could never let your bosses and colleagues see you get angry, never let them see you sweat.
Booker told Jackson that he knew she was “so much more than your race and gender” but could not look at her without seeing his mother or his cousins, “one of them who had to come here to sit behind you … to have your back.” He told Jackson that when he looked at her “I see my ancestors, and yours … Nobody’s going to steal that joy.”
The senator noted that Jackson’s parents, despite the oppressive racial discrimination of their times, “didn’t stop loving this country, even though this country didn’t love them back.” He quoted from the Langston Hughes poem, “Let America Be America Again.” He spoke of the struggles of Irish and Chinese immigrants and members of the LGBTQ community, who also loved this country and had to demand that it love them in return. He recounted the life story of Harriet Tubman and told of how she looked up at the North Star as a harbinger of hope. “Today you’re my star,” he told Jackson. “You are my harbinger of hope.”
The attacks from Republicans would continue, Booker said. “But don’t worry, my sister. Don’t worry. God has got you. And how do I know that?” Booker’s voice cracked with emotion. “Because you’re here. And I know what it’s taken for you to sit in that seat.”
Thank you, Mr. Robinson … and now a short clip from Senator Booker’s speech …