The Senate is considering the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Monday morning, as Republicans and Democrats lay the groundwork for a historic confirmation fight.
Senators won’t question Jackson – who would be the first ever Black woman on the Supreme Court – during the Monday session. But they ae already sparring over Jackson’s record, including whether she’s “soft on crime” and would take those views to the bench.
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“[Y]ou come from a law enforcement family. Yet despite that shared family experience, despite your record, we’ve heard claims that you have, quote, soft on crime,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.
“These baseless charges are unfair,” he added. “They fly in the face of pledges my colleagues made that they would approach your nomination with civility and respect and fact checkers, including The Washington Post, ABC News and CNN have exposed some of these charges as falsehoods.”
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But Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, appeared set up an attack against Jackson not just that she’s soft on crime, but that she’s willing to let her personal opinion dictate the outcome of a case.
“The most important thing that I look for is a nominee’s view of the law, judicial philosophy and view on the role of a judge in our constitutional system,” he said. “I’ll be looking to see whether Judge Jackson is committed to the Constitution as originally understood.”
“The courts are not vested with a policy making 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.”
“This is going to be about your philosophy,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said. “We’re going to ask you what we think you need to be asked and, Senator Hawley. You need to ask her about her record as a district court judge… Very fair game.”
Graham was referencing comments in recent days from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who is raising concerns about an alleged pattern of Jackson handing down soft sentences for child porn offenses.
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Grassley also complained that the committee is not getting enough records from the Obama White House, especially during Jackson’s time on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Jackson’s work on that commission is also part of some GOP attacks alleging she’s soft on crime.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was among the Democrats who dismissed the GOP attacks against Jackson as off-base.
“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. “She’s not soft on crime. Her background as a federal public defender would bring an informed perspective.”
The hearing will start off slow. Monday will include opening statements from the senators on the committee following opening statements from the two individuals Jackson’s chosen to introduce her.
Her first introducer will be Judge Thomas Griffith, who sat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit while Jackson was a district judge in D.C. Griffith, notably, is considered a conservative legal luminary who was appointed to the D.C. Circuit by former President George W. Bush.
University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School professor Lisa Fairfax will also speak on Jackson’s behalf, before the hearing culminates with the judge’s opening statement.
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GOP attacks are unlikely to keep Jackson from being confirmed with Democrats holding the thin Senate majority. And Republicans stress they won’t go into personal attacks against the judge and will stick to her record.
But the hearings may largely serve as a forum to increase name recognition for the 2024 presidential election, when Hawley and Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., may be GOP contenders. More immediately, Republicans hope to use Jackson as a proxy for their attempts to paint Democrats as soft on crime ahead of the crucial 2022 midterms.
The history of the moment is was also not lost in the hearing room Monday.
“The Supreme Court has a long and storied history… The reality is the court’s members in one respect have never really reflected the nation they served,” Durbin said. “In more than 230 years, the Supreme Court has had 115 justices. One hundred-eight have been White men… No justice has been a Black woman. You, judge, can be the first.”
“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,” Graham said.
“Judge Jackson, you know, with your presence here today, you are writing a new page in the history of America, a good page,” Leahy said.
He added that Jackson’s effort to join the Supreme Court will inspire “millions,” before turning to slam Republicans for their “soft on crime” attacks against Jackson.