Mar 21, 2022 - Podcasts

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's historic SCOTUS hearing

Today Supreme Court Justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee for day one of her confirmation hearings. The 51-year old judge has been nominated to fill the spot left vacant by retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. If confirmed - which seems very likely - Jackson would be the first Black woman nominated to The Supreme Court.

  • Plus, Russia and Ukraine reach a dangerous stalemate.
  • And, how the White House is tackling rising gas prices.

Guests: The Washington Post's Robert Barnes, Axios' Sophia Cai and Dave Lawler.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Lydia McMullen-Laird, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday March 21st. And it’s officially spring! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering today: Russia and Ukraine reach a dangerous stalemate. Plus, how Democrats are tackling rising gas prices.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: the start of a historic Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Today Supreme Court justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee for day one of her confirmation hearings. The 51-year-old judge has been nominated to fill the spot left vacant by retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. If confirmed, which seems pretty likely at this point, Jackson would be the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court. Here with what to expect over the next few days of questioning is The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes. Hey, Robert, welcome to Axios Today!

ROBERT BARNES: Hi, thanks for having me.

NIALA: Robert, there's so much happening outside of these hearings, the war in Ukraine, gas prices and inflation. Could that make for a speedier confirmation process?

ROBERT: Well, what I think is really speeding up this confirmation process is Democrats are borrowing a page from the Republicans. They quickly moved through the confirmation for Amy Coney Barrett just before the 2020 election. There's not a whole lot that Republicans can do to slow it down unless they raise some doubts about Judge Jackson during the confirmation hearings this week. This is one case in which the Democrats don't really have to depend on cooperation from Republicans to get this done.

NIALA: One of those doubts might be her background as a public defender, which could be considered controversial by some. What's controversial about being a public defender and a nominee for the Supreme Court?

ROBERT: Well, what's controversial is the clients you have, which are clients that you don't get to pick, but are chosen for you when you're a public defender. And so she has defended, for instance, someone detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But you know, it goes both ways. I mean, she was chosen partly, uh, because of her background as a public defender. President Biden said that that's something that he was looking for and it's something that the Supreme Court doesn't have right now. It has a couple of former prosecutors, but it doesn't have anyone who's represented someone in criminal matters as a defense lawyer. And hasn't since Justice Thurgood Marshall left the bench.

NIALA: We started this conversation talking about the historic nature of her nomination and some of the ways her background is not traditional, but in many ways, does she represent what we expect to be the mold of a Supreme court justice?

ROBERT: Yeah, very much. She went to Ivy league schools, undergrad and Harvard law school. She had a Supreme Court clerkship. She's worked in corporate law. She has been a judge with more experience than many of the other, uh, justices had as a judge before they went on the Supreme Court.

NIALA: So Robert, what are you gonna be listening for today as the hearings start?

ROBERT: I think I'll be listening for how deeply she handles, uh, some of the attacks, from Republican Senators. They'll ask very pointed questions about her background, uh, as a public defender, about some of the decisions she's made. They'll try to find out her judicial philosophy, which is something that is rather amorphous. She has said she doesn't really have a judicial philosophy per se, that she applies the facts of the case to the law, and the precedents of her circuit and of The Supreme Court. But, you know, once you become a Supreme Court Justice, you don't have to abide by those precedents anymore. You can change them if you think that they're very wrong or you can at least attempt to do it.

NIALA: And when you say a judicial philosophy, how is that represented on the court - right now?

ROBERT: Well, the nominees from President Trump, all in sort of one way or another, said that they were originalists. That they viewed the Constitution, as the way it was written, what the words meant at the time. Usually more liberal justices and Democratic nominees say no, the Constitution is a very broadly written document, and it evolves with our society. And, you know, you extrapolate from that into current day problems and issues. No judge before a Senate committee wants to say, you know, anything goes with the Constitution. But there is some, uh, sort of middle ground there between the originalist and those who see it as what is called an evolving document.

NIALA: Robert Barnes reports on the Supreme Court for The Washington post. Thanks, Robert.

ROBERT: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Also - we got word last night that 73-year-old Justice Clarence Thomas was admitted to the hospital Friday evening for what Supreme Court spokesperson Patricia McCabe said were "flu-like" symptoms. McCabe said his symptoms are subsiding and he expects to be released in “a day or two.”

In 15 seconds, how Congress and the White House are trying to provide relief for Americans struggling with high gas prices.

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NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Democrats are feeling the pressure to offer a policy response to record high gas prices Americans have been facing in recent weeks. One scoop we just learned about from Axios Sophia Cai, the Biden administration even considered giving Americans prepaid debit cards for gas, but that was quickly shot down. That idea came up as part of a broader package to address gas prices, which is still in its early stages. Sophia's with us now. Hey, Sophia, we know this gas card proposal failed, but what were they thinking of with this?

SOPHIA CAI: So they were thinking of finding a way to put money in consumers' pockets. This was ruled out because it would be expensive, it could worsen inflation and it could bog down the IRS, at a time when they're busy during the filing season.

NIALA: So what's on the table now?

SOPHIA: So right now there's a few ideas that Congress is tossing around. One of them that has been proposed for at least a month now, is a plan to suspend the federal gas tax. A second idea is raising taxes on oil companies, to fund assistance programs for Americans. And then a third idea is to provide a rebate. whenever gas prices get above $4.

NIALA: So what else is Congress trying to do here, Sophia?

SOPHIA: So Congress plans on bringing the heads of the largest oil companies to testify before both the House and the Senate. And that could happen as soon as this week.

NIALA: Sophia Cai covers Congress for Axios. Thanks Sophia.

SOPHIA: Thanks.

NIALA: As we enter day 26 of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it looks like both sides are settling into a stalemate. With Russian forces failing to seize major cities, experts are now warning this new phase could be more dangerous. I asked Axios world editor Dave Lawler to explain why:

DAVE LAWLER: In the early days of this war, things were very dynamic. You'll remember the Russians basically tried and failed to make a sprint for Kyiv. But in the south of the country, in particular, they were taking quite a bit of territory day by day.

But now, if you were to take a look at a map of who holds what in Ukraine and compare that to one week ago, the front lines have really not moved very much. There's a stalemate scenario taking hold, but that doesn't mean nothing's happening.

Russia is continuing to bombard cities. If you look at what's happening in Mariupol, you get a sense of just how brutal this form of warfare can be for civilians. For the Russians when you plan for a quick sprint and end up in this long slog, you're likely to be undersupplied and frankly, demoralized. And U.S. officials say that's what's happening to Russia's pretty exhausted troops right now. They're gonna need to be resupplied, they're gonna need to be reinforced. For the Ukrainians, they fought far more effectively than anyone expected. But to keep that up, they're gonna need these Western supplied weapons to keep reaching their troops.

We also don't know what kind of casualties they've taken and what position they're in to continue to hold out and even to counter attack in some places. So the next week or two are going to be critical to see if this stalemate holds or if things shift in either direction. But also to see whether this could help prod the two sides in particular, the Russians to start thinking more seriously about making a peace deal.

NIALA: Dave Lawler is Axios’ world editor.

That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com or reach out to me on twitter. You can also text me at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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