Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court, is back in the Senate for a third day of hearings, as Republicans try to depict her as soft on crime and Democrats hail her candidacy as historic.
Republicans grilled Jackson on the penalties she has given down to sex offenders during her nine years as a federal judge, her advocacy on behalf of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, her thinking on critical race theory, and even her religious beliefs during Tuesday’s long session. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican, read from children’s books that he said are taught at her teenage daughter’s school at one point.
Several Republican senators quizzed Jackson about her child pornography sentencing, claiming they were less severe than recommended by federal guidelines. She said that she based the sentencing on a variety of considerations other than the standards, and that some of the cases had caused her nightmares.
Could her decisions have put children in danger? “Nothing could be further from the truth,” she stated as a mother and a judge.
Jackson spent her first day of hearings addressing GOP concerns and showcasing her compassionate manner on the bench, according to Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Republicans on the committee, some of whom are eyeing the president, sought to paint her — and Democrats in general — as soft on crime, a recurring issue in Republican midterm election campaigns.
“Crime and its effect on the community, and the necessity for law enforcement – those are not abstract notions or political slogans to me,” Jackson told the committee, adding that her brother and two uncles were police officers.
After Jackson and the 22 members of the panel presented opening comments on Monday, Wednesday’s hearing is the second day of questioning and the third day of hearings. The committee will hear from legal experts on Thursday before voting on whether to advance her nomination to the Senate floor.
President Joe Biden nominated Jackson to the Supreme Court in February, making good on a campaign promise to appoint a Black woman to the court for the first time in American history. She would succeed Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced his retirement from the Supreme Court in January after 28 years on the bench. After Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, Jackson would be the third Black justice and the sixth woman on the Supreme Court.
If nothing unforeseen happens, Democrats, who have a razor-thin majority in the Senate, want to complete Jackson’s nomination by Easter, but Breyer will not leave until the current term concludes this summer.
Jackson stated that the possibility of being the first Black woman on the court is “very important” and that she has received several emails from young girls. Jackson further stated that her nomination “supports public trust in the court.”
Democrats have praised Biden’s Supreme Court nomination, pointing out that she would be the first Black woman on the court, as well as the first public defender and the first with expertise representing impoverished criminal defendants since Marshall.
Republicans complimented her experience but questioned it, focusing in particular on work she conducted defending captives at the US facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, around 15 years ago. Public defenders, according to Jackson, do not choose their clients and are “standing up for the constitutional importance of representation.” She explained that she continued to represent one client in private practice since his case was assigned to her firm.
Cruz questioned Jackson on her sentencing for child pornographers, picking up on a trend initiated by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and emphasized by the Republican National Committee in fundraising mailings, bringing out a huge poster board and marking words he claimed he found abhorrent.
Jackson justified her rulings by claiming that she considers not only sentencing standards but also the victims’ tales, the nature of the offenses, and the defendants’ backgrounds when making her decisions.
“A judge isn’t a mathematician,” she explained. “All of these varied variables are considered by a judge.”
Cruz, Hawley, and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., are all prospective presidential contenders in 2024, and their rounds of questioning were some of the most confrontational, focusing on subjects that the GOP base cares about. Cruz inquired about critical race theory, a thesis based on the belief that racism is institutionalized in the United States. The idea doesn’t come up in Jackson’s work as a judge, and if verified, it “wouldn’t be anything I would rely on.”
The Texas senator also questioned her about her daughter’s private school in Washington, where she serves on the board of directors, bringing up a book called “Antiracist Baby” that he said was taught to the school’s younger students.
“Do you believe that newborns are racist, according to this book that is being taught to children?” Cruz inquired.
Jackson took a long pause, clearly upset. No youngster should be persuaded to believe they are bigots, victims, or oppressors, she argued. “I don’t believe in any of it,” she stated emphatically.
When asked about abortion, Jackson readily agreed with remarks made by conservative Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh during their nomination hearings. “Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Wade are the Supreme Court’s settled law on a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. “They’ve constructed a structure that the Supreme Court has maintained,” Jackson added.
Jackson’s responses glossed over an important point: the Supreme Court is now debating whether to overturn rulings that confirm a nationwide right to abortion.
Sen. John F. Kennedy, R-La., questioned Jackson when life begins at the end of the day. She said she didn’t know and then added, without going into detail, “I have a religious outlook that I put aside when I am judgment on cases.”