U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson deflects Republican attacks

Reuters | 3/24/2022, 6 p.m.
Republicans on Wednesday pressed their attacks on a range of issues against Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee to …
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson answers questions Tuesday posed by members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the second day of confirmation hearings on her nomination to become an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Mandel Ngan/Pool via Reuters

WASHINGTON - Republicans on Wednesday pressed their attacks on a range of issues against Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee to become the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, as she inched closer to the end of an intense two days of questioning with Democrats coming to her defense.

Judge Jackson, who has remained even-tempered throughout marathon questioning during her U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, showed some impatience Wednesday over repeated questions posed by Republican members of the committee who accused her of being too lenient as a judge in sentencing child pornography offenders.

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri again pressed her on one child pornography case involving an 18-year-old defendant in which Judge Jackson imposed a three-month sentence. He asked her if she regretted the sentence.

“Senator, what I regret is that during a hearing about my qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences,” Judge Jackson responded.

Judge Jackson, who has undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard and practiced law for more than 10 years including as a federal public defender, has served on the federal bench since 2013. She was nominated by former President Obama to serve as a judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Colum- bia, and in early 2021, was elevated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after being nominated by President Biden.

She has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate three times, twice for the federal judgeships and once for the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a post she held from 2010 to 2014. The current hearings, which have proven most contentious, stem from her nomination by President Biden to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who intends to retire when the court ends its current term and begins its summer recess.

Judge Jackson noted Wednesday that she had sentenced more than 100 people as a judge.

Democrats and sentencing experts have said Judge Jackson’s approach to child pornography sentencing was similar to the vast majority of federal judges.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who repeatedly interrupted Judge Jackson as she was trying to answer his questions, told her that “every judge who does what you’re doing is making it easier for these children to be exploited.”

“I know how serious these crimes are,” Judge Jackson replied, adding that her approach was to ensure “the most serious offenders get the longest time.”

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the committee’s chairman, pushed back on Republican requests for more information on Judge Jackson’s child pornography cases, saying the issue had already been debated in detail over two days.

Republicans also questioned her on issues unrelated to her qualifications for the high court, including critical race theory, gender identity, how many murders and rapes have gone unsolved, and parental rights. Sen. Durbin opened Wednesday’s hearing lamenting that his panel had become “the testing ground for conspiracy theories and culture war theories.”

“There is an absurdity to this that is almost comical if it was not so dangerous,” Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey said of the Republicans’ attacks.

“You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American,” Sen. Booker told Judge Jackson, who could be seen wiping a tear from her eye.

So far, there is no sign that the Republican attacks are likely to derail Judge Jackson’s confirmation, with Democrats narrowly controlling the Senate. With a simple majority needed for confirmation and the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties, she would get the job if Democrats remain united regardless of how the Republicans vote.

Under questioning from her former Harvard Law School classmate GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Judge Jackson said that if confirmed to the lifetime job she planned not to participate in a major Supreme Court case involving the university because she serves on its board of overseers.

That case, to be heard in the court’s next term that begins in October, involves a challenge to the affirmative action admissions policy Harvard uses to increase its number of Black and Hispanic students.

Her confirmation would not change the court’s ideological balance—it has a 6-3 conservative majority—but would let President Biden freshen its liberal bloc with a 51-year-old jurist young enough to serve for decades.

Facing more long hours of often-antagonistic questioning during the hearing’s third day, Judge Jackson remained mostly unflappable, beginning most responses with a polite, “Thank you, Senator.”

Sen. Durbin praised Judge Jackson for her poise and said some Republicans had used the hearing as “an opportunity to showcase talking points for the November election” when control of Congress is up for grabs, including the argument that Democrats are “soft on crime.”

“Well, you have made a mess of their stereotype,” Sen. Durbin said, pointing to the fact that she has been endorsed by various law enforcement groups.

Republicans also have criticized her legal representation earlier in her career of some detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and tried to link Judge Jackson to activist groups on the left and to “critical race theory,” which argues American history and institutions are infused with racial bias.

There are signs that not all Republican senators agree with targeting Judge Jackson’s record on sentencing. Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said during the hearing he was “sympathetic to some of it, not necessarily all of it” when describing claims made by his colleagues. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told the Washington Post the attacks on Judge Jackson were “off course.”

Judge Jackson’s testimony was due to end on Wednesday night, with outside experts scheduled for Thursday’s final day of the hearing.

If confirmed, Judge Jackson would be the 116th justice to serve on the high court, the sixth woman and the third Black person. With Judge Jackson on the bench, the court for the first time would have four women and two Black justices.