President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson Monday said she will adhere to the limits of her job as a judge if confirmed, and recognized the history behind her nomination to the court as a Black woman.
“During this hearing I hope that you will see how much I love our country, and the Constitution, and the rights that make us free,” Jackson told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I stand on the shoulders of so many who have come before me, including Judge Constance Baker Motley, who was the first African-American woman to be appointed to the federal bench and with whom I share a birthday.”
Jackson added: “Like Judge Motley, I have dedicated my career to ensuring that the words engraved on the front of the Supreme Court building, ‘Equal Justice Under Law,’ are a reality and not just an ideal.”
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Jackson made the comments in her opening statement at her confirmation hearing, which will run through Thursday, including questioning from senators Wednesday and Thursday.
Jackson also heaped thanks on several of her family members, including her parents, brother, in-laws, husband and daughters.
“My parents taught me that unlike the many barriers that they had had to face growing up, my path was clearer,” she said. “So that if I worked hard and I believed in myself and in America, I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be.”
Jackson further praised Justice Stephen Breyer, who she previously clerked for and who she will replace if confirmed.
“Justice Breyer in particular not only gave me the greatest job that any young lawyer could ever hope to have, but he also exemplifies what it means to be a Supreme Court justice of the highest level of skill and integrity, civility, and grace,” she said. “It is extremely humbling to be considered for Justice Breyer’s seat, and I know I could never fill his shoes. But if confirmed I would hope to carry on his spirit.
Jackson also committed to adhering to the limits placed on the judicial branch, including neutrality.
“If I am confirmed, I commit to you that I will work productively to support and defend the Constitution and this grand experiment of American democracy that has endured over these pas 246 years,” she said. “I have been a judge for nearly a decade now, and I take that responsibility and my duty to be independent very seriously.”
She added: “I know that my role as a judge is a limited one, that the Constitution empowers me only to decide cases and controversies that are properly presented. And I know that my judicial role is further constrained by careful adherence to precedent.”
Jackson’s comments followed introductions from former D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Thomas Griffith and University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School professor Lisa Fairfax. Griffith notably is considered a conservative legal luminary and was appointed by former President George W. Bush.
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“I’ve had many opportunities to return to review her work and observe her work over the years as a judge, and on several occasions I reviewed her decisions on appeal,” Griffith said. “Although we did not always agree on the outcome the law required, I respected her diligent and careful approach, her deep understanding and her collegial manner, indispensable traits for success as a justice on the Supreme Court.”
Fairfax has been friends with Jackson since law school and praised her as the kind of person who is “the first call you make for advice about your career to the first knock you hear on the door after learning you are diagnosed with cancer.”
Multiple senators, meanwhile recognized the historic nature of the Jackson’s appointment.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends towards justice,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said. “Well, today, America is witnessing the literal bending of the arc.”
“Judge Jackson, you know, with your presence here today, you are writing a new page in the history of America, a good page,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said.
“I have said in the past, and I think it’s good for the court to look like America. So count me in on the idea of making the court more diverse,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.
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Jackson’s comments came after more than four hours of opening statements from senators in which Republicans appeared to be laying the groundwork for attacks on Jackson’s record and Democrats preemptively set up their defenses.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., named several child pornography cases that Jackson faced when she was a federal district judge. He highlighted that in every such case, Jackson sentenced the defendant more lightly than what federal sentencing guidelines recommended or federal prosecutors asked for. In fact, some of the sentences were the lightest allowed by law, Hawley said.
“Some have said that the federal sentencing guidelines are too harsh on child sex crimes… I can’t say I agree with that,” Hawley said.
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Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, complained of delays in getting documents on Jackson’s time on the U.S. Sentencing Commission and said the most important thing he looks for in a nominee is “judicial philosophy.”
“The courts are not vested with a policymaking authority. According to our Constitution, courts hear cases and controversies and decide them. Nothing more, nothing less,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, added. “That’s an important distinction to remember in the days that lie ahead.”
Democrats, meanwhile, alleged that Republicans are off-base with those attacks.
“There is simply no evidence to support these unfounded attacks,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said.
“Judge Jackson is no judicial activist. She is not a puppet of the so-called radical left. She’s been praised by Republican-appointed judges for her jurisprudence,” Leahy said.