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NBCU Academy presents Behind the Story


March 21, 2022

Go behind the scenes of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic Supreme Court confirmation hearings with MSNBC’s Ari Melber, host of “The Beat with Ari Melber.”

As Judge Jackson seeks to become the first Black woman to serve on the high court, NYU Law professor Melissa Murray and Ari pull back the curtain on the confirmation process, how they conduct legal analysis and what to watch for during the nomination hearings. Watch the video above or read the following lightly edited section of the transcript.

Ari Melber: This is a historic nomination. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson brings more than one type of diversity and different experience to her nomination. We’ve been watching mostly opening statements today, what jumps out at you so far?

Prof. Melissa Murray: Well, I’ll just say this is really a thrill for me to watch. I’ve watched a lot of these confirmation hearings over the years. I was a witness at a recent confirmation hearing — I testified against Brett Kavanaugh on his reproductive rights record. But I’ve never felt this way about another confirmation hearing before, and that’s likely because we have never seen a Black woman standing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, making her bid to become a member of the highest court in the land. As a Black woman, that’s really fantastic to watch. And as the mother of a Black daughter, it’s absolutely thrilling to think that for my children there really will be no ceiling to what they can accomplish.

Melber: Some people might take it for granted that they’re told growing up, “Oh, you could be anything.” But what does it mean to be told that if you would be the first or it’s not necessarily yet established in American life? How do you navigate your excitement as well as your independence and rigor as a legal expert?

Murray: I don’t think there is anything that suggests that having a stake in the historic aspect of a nomination means you can’t be a neutral and analytical person who covers what’s going on in these hearings. I’m going to listen to Judge Jackson, even though I’m very excited about the prospect of her nomination. I’m going to listen to her and think about what she says. And as important, I’m going to think about what the senators are asking her and what those questions mean, not only for Judge Jackson, but for the entire legal system and for our politics more generally.

So I just want to state unequivocally the idea that your having a personal stake in events as they are unfolding does not mean that you cannot be an impartial, and indeed, rigorous analyst.

I think about how the Supreme Court has always been covered — the ecosystem around the Supreme Court has always been relatively homogenous. It’s historically been covered by mostly white men with a handful of white women, but very rarely by people of color. I host a podcast, “Strict Scrutiny,” with two other women, and one of the reasons why we started it is because we wanted to diversify the ranks of those commenting on the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court’s work touches the lives of millions of people, especially women and those from marginalized communities. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be rigorous interrogators of what the court does. That doesn’t mean that we can’t comment on what the court does, simply because we may have an outsized stake in what they do.