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Senate confirmation hearings to begin for Biden’s Supreme Court pick Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

The Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will begin Monday in the Senate, marking President Biden’s first nomination to the high court. 

With Democrats in narrow control of the Senate and Jackson receiving three GOP votes in the past for her confirmation to a federal appellate court, Jackson heads into the hearings on a solid path toward confirmation. 

But Republicans don’t intend to let her off easy, raising concerns on everything from her past work as a public defender representing Guantanamo Bay detainees and whether she was too lenient on sex offenders as a district court judge.

“The problem is I haven’t been able to find a single case where she has had a child porn offender, a pedophile in front of her, where she hasn’t given him the most lenient sentence she possibly could,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., recently told “Hannity.”

WHO IS BIDEN SUPREME COURT NOMINEE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON?

The White House has dismissed Hawley’s claims as “conspiracy theory” and pointed to fact checks on his remarks from outlets like the Washington Post and the Associated Press. 

“Judge Jackson is a proud mother of two whose nomination has been endorsed by leading law enforcement organizations, conservative judges, and survivors of crime,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement to Fox News. “This is toxic and weakly-presented misinformation that relies on taking cherry-picked elements of her record out of context – and it buckles under the lightest scrutiny.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have touted what they say are Jackson’s stellar credentials, evenhanded judicial record and bipartisan support. Jackson has been endorsed by Judge Thomas Griffith, a well-known, retired conservative federal judge, as well law enforcement groups like the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).

“Her qualifications are exceptional,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “In every role she’s held, she has earned a reputation for thoughtfulness, evenhandedness and collegiality. And just as impressive as Judge Jackson’s record is her character and temperament. Humble, personable, she’s dedicated herself to making our legal system more understandable and more accessible for everyone who came in her courtroom.”

GRASSLEY CALLS FOR JUDGE JACKSON RECORDS AMID GOP SCRUTINY OVER CHILD PORN SENTENCING; WHITE HOUSE PUSHES BACK

Jackson is a Harvard Law School graduate who was most recently confirmed last spring in a 53-44 vote to serve on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She previously was a Senate-confirmed federal district court judge, member of the United States Sentencing Commission, a federal public defender and a private attorney at four elite law firms.

The schedule

Four days of hearings are scheduled for the Senate Judiciary Committee from March 21-25. The long days of questioning for Jackson will be Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Monday will be a day of introductory statements starting at 11 a.m. ET.

Opening statements will be 10 minutes from each of the 22 Senate Judiciary Committee members, five minutes from the outside introducers — retired federal appeals court Judge Thomas Griffith and Professor Lisa Fairfax of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School – and 10 minutes from Judge Jackson herself.  

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks after President Biden announced Jackson as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Cross Hall of the White House Feb. 25, 2022.

Tuesday is when the 22 senators will begin questioning Judge Jackson starting at 9 a.m. ET.

Senators will have the opportunity to ask questions for 30 minutes each in order of seniority. Tuesday’s testimony is expected to last well into the evening.

Wednesday will be the second day of questions for Judge Jackson starting at 9 a.m. ET.

Each of the 22 senators can ask a second round of questions for 20 minutes each. Afterward, the Senate Judiciary Committee will meet privately and will be permitted to ask Jackson about any material contained in her FBI background investigation. This closed session is standard for every Supreme Court nominee, regardless of whether the background investigation has raised concerns, according to the committee.

Thursday will include testimony from outside witnesses starting at 9 a.m. ET. Judge Jackson will not be present on Day 4. 

The witnesses will include the American Bar Association, friends and colleagues speaking on behalf of Judge Jackson and Republican-picked opposition speakers such as victims or losing parties in Judge Jackson’s cases. 

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Statements from the witnesses will be five minutes each, and question rounds from senators will also be five minutes each.

The senators

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearings will be led by chairman Durbin. The top Republican on the committee is Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Democrats are very supportive of Jackson and are expected to be friendly questioners, whereas Republicans, including former and potential presidential candidates, will dig into more controversial topics and put Judge Jackson and President Biden’s politics on the hot seat.  

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduces Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken during Blinken's confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington Jan. 19, 2021. Durbin will preside over Supreme Court confirmation hearings starting March 21, 2022. 

Aside from Grassley, the additional 10 Republicans on the committee who will question Judge Jackson are Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Kennedy of Lousiana, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the only GOP woman on the committee. 

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In addition to Durbin, the 10 other Democrats on the committee are senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Dianne Feinstein of California, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Chris Coons of Delaware, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Alex Padilla of California and Jon Ossoff of Georgia, one of the newest members of the Senate. 

The issues

Democrats have touted Judge Jackson’s unique record as a public defender from 2005 to 2007, but Republicans have sought to portray her work as having special empathy for convicted criminals. 

“I guess that means that government prosecutors and innocent crime victims start each trial at a disadvantage,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said. 

One area of specific controversy is the work she did as a public defender representing four Guantanamo Bay detainees, which some Republicans have depicted as “defending terrorists.” Judge Jackson said in a written response to the committee that ethics rules that apply to lawyers mean an “attorney has a duty to represent her clients zealously” regardless of personal views.

Bates, the White House spokesman, added: “Public defenders do not choose their clients and they are obligated to do their job competently.”

Judge Jackson’s decisions on executive privilege are also under scrutiny. Perhaps her most high-profile opinion came on the D.C. District Court in the case between the House Judiciary Committee and former White House counsel Don McGahn. McGahn was ordered by Trump not to testify before the committee, despite a subpoena citing executive privilege.  

Jackson ruled that McGahn could be forced to testify, writing that “presidents are not kings.”

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Feb. 24, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. 

And some Republicans have sought to paint Jackson as too soft on criminals, based in part on her work on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which reduced sentences for drug offenders by addressing the disparity between crack and powder cocaine drug crimes. The reforms had bipartisan support at the time.

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Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has been raising concerns over what he said was lax sentencing of about 10 child pornography offenders by Judge Jackson, suggesting a pattern of going soft on certain criminal defendants. “I’m concerned that this a record that endangers our children,” Hawley said. 

The White House’s Bates says in the “overwhelming majority” of Judge Jackson’s cases involving child sex crimes, Jackson imposed sentences that “were consistent with or above what the government or U.S. Probation recommended.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) questions Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing titled Protecting Kids Online: Instagram and Reforms for Young Users on Capitol Hill, December 8, 2021 in Washington, DC. Blackburn will be questioning Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during Judiciary Committee Supreme Court hearings. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Republicans also plan to press Judge Jackson whether she agrees with liberal groups backing her, such as Demand Justice, that have pushed to expand the Supreme Court with additional justices.

Blackburn “will ask Judge Jackson if she supports the positions of the radical left-wing groups that are funding a massive PR blitz to get her confirmed – such as packing the Court,” a Blackburn aide told Fox News. “The American people have a right to know if Judge Jackson will capitulate to the radical left and join their call to pack the court.”

The stakes

If confirmed, Judge Jackson will make history, fulfilling President Biden’s campaign promise to name the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. 

She’d succeed the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, for whom she once clerked.

President Biden delivers remarks on the retirement of Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, left, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington Jan. 27, 2022. 

The ideological makeup of the court will remain the same with a 6-3 split in favor of justices appointed by Republican presidents. 

The Supreme Court in the coming months will be deciding hot-button issues like abortion access, gun rights, religious liberty disputes, immigration limits and affirmative action.

Fox News’ Kelly Laco, Tyler Olson, Bill Mears and Shannon Bream contributed to this report. 

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