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AP photos, reporting capture cathartic moment in Jackson confirmation hearings

A tear rolls down Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson's cheek as Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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In a week marked by a grinding war and a celebrity’s slap, it was a single tear and the words of a senator that provided a relief valve at a historic but troubling and contentious confirmation hearing of the first Black woman nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

AP Washington photographer Alex Brandon, assigned to the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, spent hours sitting on the floor of the hearing room, ever attentive for potential photos despite the largely predictable proceedings. And for the most part, the hearings produced predictable photos.

That changed on the final day of Senate questioning,as Sen. Cory Booker,D-NJ.,talked about the significance of Jackson’s nomination,telling her,“You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American,” drawing tears from the nominee. Brandon made photos and quickly alerted his editors.

Race and ethnicity writer Aaron Morrison jumped in to record the moment, quickly producing a full text story that provided the context for Brandon’s striking photo of a tear streaking down Jackson’s cheek. The story zeroed in on what Booker offered, a moment to restore the judge’s identity against a backdrop of bruising questioning that tried to portray her as someone else. Brandon’s photo lets the viewer interpret whether Jackson was reflecting on her personal journey or releasing the stress of public restraint demanded of her in a nation that professes to high ideals. A column in The Washington Post featured the AP photo with the headline, “These were the tears of hope we all needed right now.”

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At left, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2022. At right, Jackson looks down as a tear rolls down her cheek during Booker’s remarks in support of her nomination. – AP Photos / Alex Brandon

Morrison’s story moved with Brandon’s photo,quickly attracting robust readership and nearly 200,000 views online,becoming the most-viewed story from a busy week of Supreme Court coverage. In a testament to Morrison’s elegant and effective writing,metrics show that most people read the entire piece.

For providing readers and viewers with much to consider about who Jackson is,but more importantly,who America is, Brandon and Morrison share AP’s Best of the Week — Second Winner honors.

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