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Birmingham man sentenced for carjacking and firearm charges

Brandon Moseley

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A federal judge sentenced Darise Cortez Austin, age 29, on Friday for carjacking and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence that occurred in Birmingham.

The sentence was announced by U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Acting Special Agent in Charge Frank Haera.

U.S. District Judge Corey Maze sentenced Austin to 144 months in prison for carjacking and possession of a firearm during of a crime of violence. Austin pleaded guilty in February.

“This sentence is another great example of our office and law enforcement partners working together to remove another violent criminal from our communities,” Town said. “Violent criminals who plague our streets will continue to be targets for federal prosecution where the debt to society is full price. No discounts. No parole.”

ATF Acting Special Agent in Charge, Frank Haera stated, “Removing the criminal element that uses a firearm to facilitate violent crimes such as carjacking is a priority of ATF. This joint collaboration of our local, state and federal partners as part of DOJ’s national strategy “Project Guardian” aided in one less gun on the streets. This focused investigation will have a lasting impact within this community.”

Austin lives in the Ensley neighborhood of Birmingham. Ensley was incorporated in 1899 and was once a thriving industrial community with its own downtown; but since being incorporated into Birmingham by the state legislature in 1910 many of the steel mils and foundries there have closed down, the city’s commercial center has fallen into decay, and the city/neighborhood has experienced a severe decline and rising poverty.

According to the plea agreement, Austin, while armed with a firearm, approached a Birmingham victim outside of the victim’s apartment. While pointing the firearm at the victim, Austin took the victim’s keys, wallet, and a Taurus .357 caliber pistol. Austin then stole the victim’s 2007 Nissan Altima and left the residence. Austin used the victim’s debit card at several different places. Fortunately, Austin’s crime spree was ended when an Alabama State Troopers found Austin in Lawrence County. Austin attempted to elude the State Trooper. During the motor vehicle pursuit that reached speeds of 102 miles per hour, Austin crashed the stolen Nissan. Law enforcement then detained and arrested him.

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This case is part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019. According to the DOJ, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities.

The ATF investigated the case along with the Birmingham Police Department, and ALEA. Assistant U.S Attorney Kristy Peoples prosecuted the case.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Republicans praise President Trump’s SCOTUS nomination

“The confirmation process is already proving to be another brutal fight, but I am certain that this is the job for a strong, conservative woman,” Ivey said.

Brandon Moseley

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President Donald Trump, left, and his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. (WHITE HOUSE PHOTO)

President Donald Trump on Saturday nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court, and, if confirmed, Barrett would fill the vacancy created by the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Trump’s nomination of Barrett was met with near universal praise among Alabama Republicans including Gov. Kay Ivey and a number of other elected officials.

“I commend President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Judge Barrett will be focused on interpreting the law, being an arbiter and not a lawmaker, as the Supreme Court demands of its justices,” Ivey said. “Based on her proven career and background, I am confident that Judge Barrett will be articulate and a fair supporter of issues important to Alabamians such as protecting the unborn and our Second Amendment rights, while applying the law impartially.”

Barrett has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit since 2017. Before becoming a judge, she was a law professor at Notre Dame Law School and previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Ivey said Barrett will embody the precedent established by Ginsburg and further prove that a woman can be a wife, a mother, a person of faith and hold strong personal convictions while still effectively performing the duties required of a justice.

“The confirmation process is already proving to be another brutal fight, but I am certain that this is the job for a strong, conservative woman,” Ivey said. “The people of Alabama overwhelmingly supported President Trump in 2016, and I commend him for performing his constitutional duty of nominating to the Supreme Court and getting the job done that we elected him to do. The late Justice Ginsburg herself noted that even in an election year, ‘a president doesn’t stop being president.’”

Before her death, Ginsburg reportedly made a request that her replacement not be nominated or confirmed until a “new president is installed.” Last week, Ginsburg became the first woman and the first Jewish person to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.

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President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pay their respects to Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, as she lies in repose at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. Justice Ginsburg passed away on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

“I eagerly anticipate Judge Barrett’s confirmation, and I look forward to continuing to forge a strong relationship between President Trump and the state of Alabama during his next term,” said Ivey.

Democratic Senators, though they do not appear to have the votes to stop Barrett’s nomination, are vociferously opposed to confirming a new justice before the Nov. 3 election determines whether Trump will serve as second term.

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Democrats point to what they say is the hypocritical position of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who refused to hold hearings or a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, in 2016.

All but two Republican senators appear prepared to vote for Barrett’s confirmation, all but assuring her a seat on the court and solidifying a 6-3 conservative majority.

“I am extremely pleased with President Trump’s selection in nominating Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama. “From her clerkship for the late Justice Scalia to her tenure on the 7th Circuit, Judge Barrett has had a distinguished career and has proven her commitment to the rule of law. Our next Supreme Court Justice must be a steadfast supporter of upholding our nation’s Constitution. I have no doubt in Judge Barrett’s qualifications, and I look forward to supporting her nomination.”

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat, has said he will not vote for any nominee until the results of the Nov. 3 election are decided.

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan:

“President Trump has nominated a superior candidate for our nation’s highest court. Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a solid constitutional jurist who has distinguished herself both on the bench during her time on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, in academia as a law professor at the University Notre Dame and as a clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia,” Lathan said. “Judge Barrett’s focus on following the Constitution is apparent in her opinions, in cases ranging from the 2nd Amendment to immigration. Even three Democrat Senators – Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Joe Donnelly crossed party lines in 2017 to support her first nomination to the bench.”

“A mother of seven, including two adopted children from Haiti, Supreme Court nominee Barrett has been called a ‘powerhouse’ constitutionalist,” Lathan continued. “Her consistent rulings on applying laws to the words of our U.S. Constitution is the exact example of what the justices are tasked with in implementing their rulings. Based on qualifications and experience alone, Judge Barrett’s nomination merits a vote by the full United States Senate.”

Congressman Gary Palmer:

“President Trump has made an excellent choice in nominating Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court, and I extend my heartfelt congratulations to her and her family,” Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, said. “Judge Barrett has a stellar record of faithfully interpreting the law, training young lawyers, producing brilliant scholarship, and upholding the Constitution. Her devotion to her family, and her dedication to her students during her years as a law professor, are also commendable. There is no question that she is highly qualified and will make a fantastic Justice. I urge the Senate to confirm her quickly.”

Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville:

“I am so excited about President Trump’s nomination today of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville. “She understands that’s it’s her job to interpret the Constitution as it’s written and not to manufacture new law from the bench. Her nomination opens the door to protecting unborn life, preserving our Second Amendment gun rights, and securing the religious freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution.”

“My opponent, Democrat Doug Jones has a very different opinion,” Tuberville continued. “He’s already announced his opposition to any candidate offered by President Donald J. Trump, and he said even meeting and listening to Judge Barrett would be useless. When it comes to giving fair consideration to President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Doug Jones is a lost ball in high cotton. But that comes as no surprise. He voted against Brett Kavanaugh and said he would have opposed Neil Gorsuch if he’d been in the Senate at the time. Democrat Doug even voted twice to remove Donald J. Trump from office. Since becoming our placeholder senator, Doug Jones has opposed everything most Alabamians support and supported everything most Alabamians oppose. Instead of representing our conservative Alabama values, he’s represented the Hollywood and New York values of his high-dollar, out-of-state campaign donors.”

“There’s no telling what kind of dishonest tactics Doug Jones, Chuck Schumer, Kamala Harris and the other Senate liberals will use against a woman who is imminently qualified to sit on our nation’s highest court,” Tuberville warned. “So I’ll close by asking you to join me in praying for Judge Barrett and her family as she faces what promises to be a tough and partisan confirmation hearing. With your prayers and support, America will soon have a strongly conservative Supreme Court, and Alabama will have a new senator who actually represents the citizens of this great state. May God bless Judge Barrett. May God bless President Donald Trump. And may God continue to bless the greatest nation mankind has ever known.”

Congressional candidate Barry Moore:

“I applaud the President for making this nomination now, as the Constitution mandates,” said Congressional candidate Barry Moore. “I’m confident that the Senate will also take up Judge Barrett’s nomination in a timely fashion and not delay the process until after the election. The Constitution doesn’t state anything about waiting until after an election to fill Supreme Court vacancies, despite what the Democrats want us to think.”

“I’m pleased that President Trump has chosen a strong pro-life woman for the Supreme Court,” Moore continued. “I’m also impressed by Judge Barrett’s credentials and experience. I am certain she’ll make an exceptional addition to the Supreme Court, and will serve us well for many years to come.”

“We, as a nation, must act now by praying for President Trump, Judge Barrett and their families,” Moore concluded. “They need to have a shield of favor and protection prayed over them. I truly believe we are in a spiritual battle for our nation and the Democrats will stop at nothing to destroy the character of Judge Barrett, as they’ve done for the last 4 years with President Trump.”

Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter:

“I join the members of the Alabama House Republican Caucus in praising President Trump’s decision to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville.

“Judge Barrett clerked for one of the court’s greatest conservative jurists, Judge Antonin Scalia, and she understands that her job is to interpret the Constitution as the founding fathers wrote it, not to invent new law out of thin air,” Ledbetter said. “The suit against Alabama’s strongest-in-the-nation pro-life law is currently working its way through the federal courts, and it could be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the near future. Having a conservative majority on the nation’s highest court will be essential to the Alabama Legislature’s efforts to protect unborn life from harm. We encourage the Senate to hold confirmation hearings as soon as possible and to hold an up-or-down vote on Judge Barrett’s nomination immediately after they conclude.”

Congressman Robert Aderholt:

“The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to be the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court is a big win for this country,” said Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama. “She is a defender of free speech, a protector of the Constitution, and an advocate for the most vulnerable among us. I applaud President Trump for making such a great nomination, Amy Coney Barrett will make an excellent Supreme Court Justice.”

Congressman Mo Brooks:

“It is critical to a functioning republic that justices never substitute their policy beliefs for those of properly elected officials,” said Congressman Mo Brooks, R-Alabama. “Judicial activist justices not only betray the Constitution and America when they substitute their own policy beliefs for those of elected officials who are tasked by our Constitution with making American law, they also betray their oaths of office. Amy Coney Barrett has an established record of upholding the Constitution and federal law without inserting her personal political views into her decisions. As such, I look forward to her quick confirmation by the Senate.”

“Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed by the Senate to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2017. She has already been vetted. She should easily and quickly be confirmed again,” Brooks said. “America’s founding fathers brilliantly created three branches of government, with each being a check on the other two, and each having a defined role. Congress makes law, the Executive Branch implements law, and the Judiciary interprets and applies law. In my view, America is burdened with too many liberal, activist federal justices and judges who fail to abide by their role as limited by the Constitution. I am pleased President Trump nominated a judge who understands the importance of limiting her role to that intended by America’s founding fathers.”

Former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr.:

“I applaud President Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Bassett to serve on the US Supreme Court,” said Trump National Victory Committee Member and former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr. “Judge Bassett is an outstanding Jurist and a committed Constitutionalist. Judge Basset will be an excellent Supreme Court Justice. Senator Mitch McConnell has a solid 51 Republican Senate votes to confirm. I just hope that the members on the other side of the Aisle will give Judge Barrett a respectfully hearing.”

Vice President Mike Pence:

Vice President Mike Pence said, “President Trump has nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. She has an unquestionable record as a strong, conservative Constitutionalist who will uphold the rule of law. Unfortunately, the Democrats will no doubt launch a vicious campaign to smear her simply because she was nominated by a Republican President.”

“They’d rather play politics than let the President of the United States do his Constitutional duty,” Pence continued. “But the American People will no longer be silenced by Washington Elites. THIS is the moment we take back our Country.”

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Sen. Doug Jones won’t support SCOTUS nominee before Nov. 3 election

“Certainly, power grabs are not uncommon in our political system, but few are accompanied by such blatant hypocrisy as we are witnessing now,” Jones said.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Incumbent U.S. Sen. Doug Jones during a livestreamed press briefing. (VIA DOUG JONES CAMPAIGN)

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Friday said he would not support any nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court before the outcome of the Nov. 3 election is determined. 

Speaking during a livestreamed briefing, Jones said that while Republicans appear to have enough votes to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he will not be a party to denying the people a voice in the process in the election of the next president “in just under 44 days.” 

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he plans to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg, who on Friday became the first woman, and first Jewish person, to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. 

Several Republicans who voiced opposition to President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court more than 10 months before the 2016 election have reversed course, and now say they support Trump nominating a selection with election day just a little more than a month away. 

“Certainly, power grabs are not uncommon in our political system, but few are accompanied by such blatant hypocrisy as we are witnessing now,” Jones said. “In fact, I believe that the level and intensity of hypocrisy being displayed by Senator McConnell and the president, with regard to the rush to confirm Justice Ginsburg’s successor, is unmatched in the history of our constitutional government.” 

Jones said what McConnell and other Republicans should be focusing on instead is getting another round of much-needed COVID-19 aid to small businesses and people impacted by the pandemic. 

“Rather than pushing this confirmation to the top of the Senate calendar, the majority leader should turn his focus instead to protecting the lives and livelihoods of the American people. We should pass a new bipartisan COVID-19 stimulus package to give Americans and businesses the relief that they desperately need, and that economists say if required to shore up the economy now,” Jones said. 

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Jones expressed concern as well for what medical experts are warning could be a new spike in COVID-19 nationwide. 

“There could be an even greater urgency, if our health care professionals’ warnings come to pass,” Jones said. “And that is as temperature drops and people go indoors that this virus spikes, and we see another surge.” 

Asked why his opponent, Tommy Tuberville, won’t debate Jones, he said, “It’s pretty simple. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”  

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“He has no clue. He is Coach Clueless,” Jones said. 

Jones noted that when asked recently on his thoughts on extending the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020, Tuberville stumbled through an answer that indicated he wasn’t sure what the Voting Rights Act was.

“He had no earthly idea,” Jones said. 

Jones said Tuberville isn’t going to debate him because Tuberville doesn’t want to talk about issues.

“He doesn’t want to talk about a plan. His plan is simply this: Whatever Donald Trump says, I’m good,” Jones said, “and if Donald Trump says or does something that is not good, it’s crickets coming from Coach Tuberville.” 

Jones noted that after multiple news outlets, including Fox News, confirmed reporting that Trump had said disparaging things about veterans who died in combat, Tuberville has not spoken out against Trump’s comments. 

Jennifer Griffin, senior national security correspondent for Fox News, reported that she has spoken to senior U.S. officials who backed up reporting by The Atlantic, and said Trump said of the Vietnam War “anyone who went was a sucker.” 

“He has not said a thing about what was confirmed by Fox News about the president’s comment,” Jones said of Tuberville. “That’s just disgraceful.”

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Republicans blast Jones for refusal to even consider Trump nominee

Brandon Moseley

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Republicans criticized U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Friday for saying that he would not vote to confirm any nominee by President Donald Trump before the Nov. 3 election.

Alabama Republican Party chair Terry Lathan called Jones’s announcement “disgraceful.”

“It’s disgraceful that Senator Jones is dismissing his duties when he announced he would not support the confirmation of any Supreme Court justice nominee put forth by President Trump prior to the November election,” Lathan said in a statement. “The Constitution of our country clearly states that the President ‘shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint…judges of the Supreme Court…’”

“At the very least, Senator Jones owes Alabamians the simple courtesy of meeting with the nominee regardless of what he already plans to do,” Lathan continued. “It’s time for him to do his job, at least until November 3rd.”

“The people of our great state have spoken,” Lathan concluded. “The majority support President Trump and his policies which includes the conservative judges he has nominated for the federal bench. However, Doug Jones continues to ignore the wishes of the majority of his constituents and falls in line with his liberal party bosses, Hollywood supporters and New York fundraisers. On Election Day, Alabamians will give their advice and consent to remove Doug Jones from office. Tommy Tuberville will represent the majority’s values when he is elected as our next U.S. Senator.”

On Friday, Jones was asked if he would even meet with the nominee. His response was, “I don’t think my vote’s going to count, so I doubt they’ll even want to.”

“The President’s nominee hasn’t even been announced but anti-Trump Democrat Doug Jones has already made up his mind against the person,” said NRSC spokesperson Paige Lindgren. “Refusing to take part in a consequential Supreme Court confirmation process is the latest example that Jones has one foot out the door. He’s clearly no longer focused on representing the people of Alabama.”

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Former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., a Trump supporter, said that Jones votes against “everything that the people of Alabama believe in.”

“Doug Jones has consistently voted against the President and everything the good people of Alabama believe in.” Hooper said. “Jones is against the 2nd Amendment, he is for government funded abortions and he is a globalist. Alabama needs to send a strong pro-life, pro-business, pro-Trump and pro-American to Washington DC. And that man is Coach Tommy Tuberville.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has vowed to bring the president’s pick to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

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“Thank God for Senator Mitch McConnell,” Hooper said. “Senator McConnell has 51 votes to confirm the President’s nominee to the US Supreme Court.”

Conservatives are hopeful that a more conservative court will vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court precedent that prevents state governments from banning abortions.

“Senator Doug Jones betrayed Alabamians when he voted against Justice Kavanaugh and has betrayed them again today, before President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has even been named,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “During his short time in office, Jones has proven to be an extremist, repeatedly siding against constituents and voting with the most radical members of his party – like Kamala Harris – in favor of abortion on demand through birth, paid for by taxpayers. Asked about his stance on limiting late-term abortions more than halfway through pregnancy, Senator Jones laughed and called the issue ‘stupid.’ Jones is unfit to represent the pro-life, pro-Trump state of Alabama and will be held accountable at the ballot box.”

Many media sources are reporting that Trump will appoint Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy on the court left by the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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Lilly Ledbetter speaks about her friendship with Ginsburg

Micah Danney

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Lilly Ledbetter spoke during a virtual campaign event with Sen. Doug Jones on Sept. 21.

When anti-pay-discrimination icon and activist Lilly Ledbetter started receiving mail from late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ledbetter’s attorney told her to save the envelopes. That’s how unusual it is to get personal mail from a member of the nation’s highest court.

Ledbetter, 82, of Jacksonville, Alabama, shared her memories of her contact with Ginsburg over the last decade during a Facebook live event hosted by Sen. Doug Jones on Monday.

Ginsburg famously read her dissent from the bench, a rare occurrence, in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. decision in 2007. The court ruled 5-4 to affirm a lower court’s decision that Ledbetter was not owed damages for pay discrimination because her suit was not filed within 180 days of the setting of the policy that led to her paychecks being less than those of her male colleagues. 

Ledbetter said that Ginsburg “gave me the dignity” of publicly affirming the righteousness of Ledbetter’s case, demonstrating an attention to the details of the suit.

Ginsburg challenged Congress to take action to prevent similar plaintiffs from being denied compensation due to a statute of limitations that can run out before an employee discovers they are being discriminated against. 

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 was passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by President Barack Obama. It resets the statute of limitation’s clock with each paycheck that is reduced by a discriminatory policy.

Ledbetter said that her heart was heavy when she learned of Ginsburg’s death on Friday. The women kept in touch after they met in 2010. That was shortly after the death of Ginsburg’s husband, tax attorney Marty Ginsburg. She spoke about her pain to Ledbetter, whose husband Charles had died two years before.

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“So we both shared that, and we shared a tear,” said Ledbetter.

Ginsburg invited her to her Supreme Court chambers to see a framed copy of the act, next to which hung a pen that Obama used to sign it.

Ginsburg later sent Ledbetter a signed copy of a cookbook honoring her husband that was published by the Supreme Court Historical Society. Included with it was a personal note, as was the case with other pieces of correspondence from the justice that Ledbetter received at her home in Alabama. They were often brochures and other written materials that Ginsburg received that featured photos of both women.

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Ledbetter expressed her support for Jones in his race against GOP challenger Tommy Tuberville. The filling of Ginsburg’s seat is a major factor in that, she said.

“I do have to talk from my heart, because I am scared to death for the few years that I have yet to live because this country is not headed in the right direction,” she said.

She noted that Ginsburg was 60 when she was appointed to the court. Ledbetter said that she opposes any nominee who is younger than 55 because they would not have the experience and breadth of legal knowledge required to properly serve on the Supreme Court.

She said that issues like hers have long-term consequences that are made even more evident by the financial strains resulting from the pandemic, as she would have more retirement savings had she been paid what her male colleagues were.

Jones called Ledbetter a friend and hero of his.

“I’ve been saying to folks lately, if those folks at Goodyear had only done the right thing by Lilly Ledbetter and the women that worked there, maybe they’d still be operating in Gadsden these days,” he said.

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