Republican lawmakers took aim at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s sentencing and personal politics on the second day of hearings for her Supreme Court nomination.
US Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic confirmation proceeded today with the first day of questioning by senators.
Jackson was nominated by President Joe Biden last month, a delivery on his campaign promise to ensure that the nation’s highest court reflects its diversity. She’s also buoyed by bipartisan Senate support, which she received in three previous Senate confirmations and ahead of the Supreme Court hearing.
“She has a very distinguished not only academic record but also her judicial career has been filled with decisions so it’s not like we have to guess the direction or what leanings she might have,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republica, said today. “The best thing we should do is treat her with the dignity she deserves.”
Still, GOP lawmakers grilled her today with references to past Republican nominees for the bench, and attacks on her judicial record.
Jackson reiterated her stance of impartiality as a judge. “I am not importing my personal views or policy preferences,” Jackson said.
The Road Ahead
Of the 115 people who have served on the Supreme court, 108 have been white men. Four have been white women, two have been Black men and there has been one Latina. Jackson is the first Black woman to be nominated, and if confirmed she will be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.
Jackson will continue to answer questions today and Wednesday. Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony from the American Bar Association, which gave her the highest qualification rating ahead of the hearings, and other witnesses before voting whether to recommend her for confirmation. Finally, her nomination will be decided by the full Senate with a vote.
Democrats hope to confirm Jackson by early April, and expect they will do so. Senate Democrats hold the narrowest of majorities, with a 50-50 split and Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tie-breaker vote.
Jackson’s biography is a list of accomplishments. Born in Washington DC in 1970 to two HBCU graduates, she was raised in Miami and grew up an outstanding scholar. She:
- Graduated Harvard University magna cum laude in 1992
- Finished Harvard Law in 1996 with honors
- Clerked under several high-profile judges, including Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who she stands to replace
- Worked as a public defender, representing poor clients in criminal cases
- Served as a US District judge in DC, 2013-2021
- Was the United States Sentencing Commission’s vice-chair, 2010-2014
- Appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the DC circuit in 2021.
Jackson’s background as a public defender sets her apart from her potential colleagues on the bench, and she will be the first justice with that background to serve on the courtSix of the nine justices were corporate lawyers or prosecutors during their careers, while the other three justices spent most of their careers in academia, at elite private law schools. Only Jackson has had extensive experience defending people.
US Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, complained of the treatment of Justice Neil Gorsuch during his confirmation, while Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina rehashed questions about Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s ability to be impartial. Graham lamented what he sees as the mistreatment of conservative nominees.
“Our people need better respect,” he said. Graham was the only Republican member of the committee who voted in favor of Jackson for the DC Circuit last year.
GOP Plan of Attack
Her record still came under fire by Republican opponents.
Several GOP lawmakers have suggested that Jackson is soft on crime or sympathetic to sex offenders, a campaign that White House spokesperson Andrew Bates called “toxic and weakly presented misinformation.”
Missouri’s Josh Hawley, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested in a series of tweets that “her record endangers children,” and today US Sen. Mike Lee grilled her from the floor on “lenient” judgements in a series of child pornography cases.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Jackson said.
During her eight years on the district court in Washington, Jackson handed down several sentences in child pornography cases that were below the recommended federal sentencing guidelines but agreed upon by the Sentencing Commission. These were moves supported by advocates of criminal justice reform and many federal judges, who say advances in texting technology render the existing sentencing suggestions too lengthy in some cases for lower-level offenders.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki recalled Hawley’s public support for Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore in 2017. Moore had routinely harassed teenage girls, to the extent that he was banned from a Birmingham-area mall.
“I’m not sure that someone who refused to tell people whether or not he would vote for Roy Moore is an effective and credible messenger on this,” Psaki told CNN.