Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., brought Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson to tears Wednesday with an impassioned speech hearkening on the plight of Black Americans and the efforts of their forebears that led Booker and Jackson to be sitting together in the same Senate hearing room.
“It’s hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom. Not to see my cousins, one of them who had to come here and sit behind you. She had to have your back. I see my ancestors and yours,” Booker said. “But don’t worry, my sister. Don’t worry. God has got you. And how do I know that? You’re here, and I know what it’s taken for you to sit in that seat.
“You have earned this spot,” Booker said. “You are worthy. You are a great American.”
The fourth Black person elected to the U.S. Senate, Booker recalled that when he first arrived in the Capitol a decade ago, some Black members of the cleaning staff would hug him after hours and thank him.
At various points during Booker’s presentation, Jackson, who spent much of the last two days fending off attempts by Republican senators to derail her historic nomination to the high court, reached across the witness table in the room and pulled a tissue from the pack and dabbed her eyes.
Throughout his monologue, Booker cited the Black men and women who had helped pave a path for Jackson and himself. He talked about how the abolitionist Harriet Tubman was beaten before she escaped slavery, then went back to save other slaves, establishing a network of safe houses. Tubman, Booker said, would gaze at the night sky looking for a star that was a “harbinger of hope.”
“I thought about her. And how she looked up, she kept looking up no matter what they did to her she never stopped looking up. And that star was a harbinger of hope,” Booker said. “Today, you’re my star. You are my harbinger of hope. This country’s getting better and better and better. And when that final vote happens, and you ascend on to the highest court in the land, I’m going to rejoice.”
Booker’s role in the proceedings seemed to be to shift the mood in the hearing room. The only Black member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he used his time to put the attacks made against Jackson’s past sentencing decisions or briefs written as an attorney in a different light than the one employed by his Republican colleagues.
“I mean, this is a new low,” Booker said of the GOP attacks, especially the claim made by Sen. Hawley of Missouri that Jackson went easy on child pornography defendants. “What’s especially surprising about this is it didn’t happen last year. You were put on a court that I’m told is considered like the second-most-powerful court in our land. And you were passed with bipartisan support. Nobody brought it up then. Did they not do their homework?”
The hearing room was quiet during Booker’s remarks, the audience transfixed. When he finished and the hearing adjourned for a 15-minute break, Booker was approached by Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, who complimented Booker on his performance and offered him a hug. Booker then moved on to Jackson’s parents, who he embraced.