Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is the first Black woman to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court and after a grueling three days of questioning – and in some cases, badgering – by Republicans, she has finally cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and appears to be headed towards confirmation as a justice with support from a united Democratic Party, and she even managed to pull a small group of Republicans in along the way.
Throughout the three days of questioning and in some cases out right rudeness by Texas Senator Ted Cruz and other Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jackson remained calm, collective and poised.
During her testimony, Jackson told the committee, “In my capacity as a justice, I would do what I’ve done for the past decade, which is to rule from a position of neutrality, to look carefully at the facts and … to render rulings that I believe and that I hope that people would have confidence in.”
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey excited everyone watching from both the gallery and throughout the nation at the close of the hearings with an emotional and dramatic closing argument, reflecting on the historic nature of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination, which brought Jackson Brown herself to tears.
“You did not get there because of some left-wing agenda. You didn’t get here because of some dark money groups. You got here how every Black woman in America who has gotten anywhere has done,” Booker said. “You are worthy. You are a great American.”
After the three days of hearings, what we do know about SCOTUS nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson is that she is cool under fire. This was demonstrated by the fact that last Tuesday under serious opposition from Republicans, she returned on Wednesday to be questioned again and was more confident and more dynamic than ever despite the fact that she under what many onlookers considered as a grueling, abusive, and overtly critical hearing.
Republican Sen. Cruz was one of those who appeared to be overly critical and overtly discriminatory toward Judge Jackson. Following his lengthy questioning regarding the sentences that she handed down in child pornography cases, the judge boldly responded, “I have spoken at length throughout this hearing about these cases. I have said what I’m going to say.”
Joining into the fracas with Cruz was January 6 insurrection supporter Sen. Josh Hawley, who continuously pushed and attempted to connect Judge Brown Jackson as a jurist that endangered children by letting child porn offenders off the hook.
“My question is, do you regret it or not?” asked Hawley about a case where the offender was sentenced to three months behind bars.
“Senator, what I regret is that in 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,” Jackson fired back.
The Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee seemed to be aiming at discrediting the Supreme Court nominee by questioning why the sentences she made regarding child pornography cases and child pornography offenders were less than the federal guidelines and below what prosecutors had recommended.
“It seems as though you’re a very kind person and there’s at least a level of empathy that enters into your treatment of a defendant that some could view as — maybe beyond what some of us would be comfortable with respect to administering justice,” said Republican Sen. Thom Tillis.
Jackson replied that Congress had tasked judges with delivering punishments aimed at rehabilitation, not just retribution and punishment, and considering a multitude of factors beyond federal guidelines. (A Supreme Court decision authored by the late Justice Antonin Scalia said the guidelines could not be made mandatory, she noted.)
“My attempts to communicate directly with defendants is about public safety, because most of the people who are incarcerated via the federal system …will come out, will be a part of our communities again,” she said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham attacked Jackson for coupling prison sentences for child porn offenders with “substantial supervision” after release.
“You think it is a bigger deterrent to take somebody who’s on a computer looking at sexual images of children, in the disgusting way, is to supervise their computer habits versus putting ’em in jail?” he asked.
“No, senator. I didn’t say ‘versus,’” Jackson shot back.
Judge Jackson also informed the Senate Judiciary Committee that as of now, if confirmed, she intends to recuse herself from hearing one of the first cases that would come before the Supreme Court following her confirmation. The case deals with a challenge to Harvard University’s use of race in college admissions.
“That is my plan,” she told fellow Harvard graduate, Ted Cruz, during the confirmation questioning.
Jackson, who is a double Harvard graduate, currently sits on Harvard’s Board of Overseers, which “provides counsel to the University’s leadership on priorities, plans, and strategic initiatives” according to its website.
Jackson’s six-year term concludes on May 26, a school spokesperson said. Supreme Court oral arguments in the school’s case would be heard several months later.
Federal law stipulates that federal judges must recuse themselves from cases whenever their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned” or when “the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.”
Enforcement of the rules on the Supreme Court is by honor system, leaving it to each justice individually to decide when it’s appropriate to recuse from a case. Several independent ethics watchdogs have said it would be prudent for Jackson to step aside from the case if she’s on the bench.
While Republican Sens. Cruz, Graham, Hawley, and Cotton garnered most of the media attention with discouraging and attacking remarks, several other Republicans offered more thoughtful and considerate questioning of Jackson’s record, including praise for her after their questions had ended.
“You’re going to be a hero. You are already a hero to lots and lots of kids,” Sen. Ben Sasse told the nominee.
“I believe we still haven’t heard the judicial philosophy, and I wish I’d made more progress with you on that,” Sasse said, but “I want to thank you … for what you have endured and for spending time with us.”
Tillis, one of the few GOP members of the committee who sat in the chamber for nearly the entirety of the 19 hours of questions, also had notably warm words for the nominee.
“I thought you’ve done a great job over the last two days,” Tillis told Jackson. “I thought that you presented yourself well. There was a lot of pressure. And that demonstrates a certain temperament or poise.”
“I just want to commend you, your family, your daughter, who has been glowing every time you talk, and I appreciate your service,” he said.
Neither Sasse nor Tillis has said whether they would vote in favor of Jackson. Both opposed her elevation to the federal appeals court last year.