6 major takeaways from Ketanji Brown Jackson's historic Supreme Court confirmation hearings

Ketanji Brown Jacksson
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  • Ketanji Brown Jackson testified this week before the Senate in her Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

  • Democrats praised her historic nomination, and Jackson pledged to "stay in my lane" as a judge.

  • Republicans aired grievances and made misleading allegations against Jackson.

This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held four days of confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden's nominee for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.

Jackson faced roughly 22 hours of grilling from the committee, which featured Republicans aggressively interrogating and interrupting her as she defended her legal record against attacks related to child pornography and her judicial philosophy. Democrats, for their part, praised Jackson's character and elevated her diverse experience that they said make her exceptionally qualified to serve as a Supreme Court justice.

Jackson, currently a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, grew up in Miami, Florida, where she went to public schools before college. She obtained both her undergraduate and law degree from Harvard, had a series of law clerkships, worked in private practice, on the US Sentencing Commission, as a public defender and a federal district judge. If confirmed, Jackson will make history as the first Black woman to sit on the nation's highest court.

The committee announced its markup for Jackson's nomination will take place Monday, which means the committee vote and full Senate vote for her confirmation will be scheduled for the coming weeks.

Here are six key takeaways from four days of confirmation hearings:

Republicans air their grievances about Kavanaugh

Jackson's hearings kicked off on Monday with Democrats lauding the historic nature of her nomination and Republicans pledging to treat her with respect. Several Republican lawmakers in their opening statements slammed their Democratic colleagues' handling of the 2018 confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which spun into disarray after a former classmate had accused him of sexual assault.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, addressing Jackson on Monday, said, "When we say that this is not Kavanaugh, what do we mean? It means that Democratic senators are not going to have their windows busted by groups. That's what it means."

"It means that no Republican senator is going to unleash on you an attack about your character when the hearing is virtually over," the South Carolina Republican continued.

Sen. Ted Cruz also used his opening statement to air out his grievances about how Kavanaugh was treated.

He pointed to the highly publicized hearings of other conservative Supreme Court nominees, including Robert Bork, who was criticized for his opposition to key rulings that expanded voting rights and civil rights, and Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill and other women who worked for him.

"You've heard a number of members on the Republican side of the aisle be quite clear on what" the confirmation hearing "should not be," Cruz said, addressing Jackson. "This will not be a political circus. This will not be the kind of character smear that, sadly, our Democratic colleagues have gotten very good at."

Beyond their initial criticism, many GOP members frequently spent time throughout the week rehashing the Kavanaugh hearings, with Graham at one point pressing Jackson for her opinion on them.

The line of questioning on Wednesday grew so heated that it prompted Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin to step in. "She's had nothing to do with the Kavanaugh hearings," he said.

Josh Hawley
Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) speaks during the confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on March 22, 2022.JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Republicans make misleading allegations that Jackson is soft on child pornography

Despite vows to refrain from personal attacks, several Republicans accused Jackson of being "soft on crime." Specifically, they claimed she was lenient toward child pornography offenders because she imposed shorter sentences than those recommended by the federal guidelines.

A handful of child pornography cases from Jackson's decades-long career consumed a large part of the hearings, as they were continuously brought up by multiple GOP members, including Sens. Graham, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Hawley, who first aired the accusations against Jackson on Twitter last week, spent nearly all of his allotted 30-minute questioning time on Tuesday on the cases.

Fact-checks and legal experts have rejected the GOP claims as dishonest and misleading because they lack key context and data that demonstrates that Jackson's sentencing record mirrors that of most federal judges and that the federal guidelines are outdated and overly severe.

Jackson stood by her record, repeatedly denounced the child pornography crimes, and said she takes her role as a judge seriously.

Democrats rallied behind Jackson, touting her list of endorsements from top law-enforcement officials and organizations across the country as well as from legal figures on both sides of the political aisle. Some Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney, criticized their fellow colleagues for the line of attack.

Still, the accusations did not let up, with Hawley on Wednesday pressing Jackson on whether she regretted one of the sentences she gave to a child pornography offender.

"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 said.

Jackson pledges to 'stay in my lane'

Jackson pledged in her testimony that if confirmed to the Supreme Court, she will "support and defend the Constitution and this grand experiment of American democracy that has endured over these past 246 years."

"I decide cases from a neutral posture. I evaluate the facts. And I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me without fear or favor consistent with my judicial oath," Jackson said in her opening statement on Monday.

Republicans who often hail conservative originalist and textualist interpretations of the Constitution on multiple occasions probed Jackson for her judicial philosophy. Yet several GOP members balked at her answers when Jackson did not offer a specific school of thought that she adheres to or a justice that she emulates.

Jackson described her judicial philosophy as a "methodology" that she's developed from practice, which consists of three essential steps: proceed from a neutral position, review and evaluate both sides' arguments, and interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case.

"I am acutely aware that as a judge in our system, I have limited power," Jackson said Tuesday. "I am trying, in every case, to stay in my lane."

"I don't think anyone can look at my record and say it is pointing in one direction or another, that it is supporting one viewpoint or another," she added.

ted cruz scotus
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, makes an opening statement during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Ketanji Brown Jackson on March 21, 2022.Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Senators yell, interrupt, and speak over each other and Jackson

The hearings grew chaotic on the third day as senators interrupted Jackson and yelled over each other. Graham and Cruz, notably, repeatedly cut Jackson off and went over their allotted questioning time.

In one heated exchange on Wednesday, Durbin hit his gavel twice to get Cruz to stop speaking.

"You can bang it as loud as you want," Cruz said, defying his requests.

"At some point you have to follow the rules," Durbin replied.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and former Judiciary Committee chairman, became increasingly frustrated over the clashes and called for "order" in the hearing room more than once on Wednesday.

Leahy also blasted his GOP colleagues over their behavior, saying Graham's conduct was "beyond the pale."

"As the Dean of the Senate," said the veteran senator, who's served longer than anyone else currently in the chamber, "I'm just distressed to see this kind of a complete breakdown of what's normally the way the Senate's handled."

When Cruz interjected during Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono's questioning, Leahy suggested the Texas Republican was merely trying to get some air time for the TV cameras in the room.

"I know the junior senator from Texas likes to get on television but most of us have been here a long time, trying to follow the rules," Leahy said.

Republicans spotlight culture war issues

GOP senators spent a sizable portion of the hearings making dubious allegations against Jackson by asking her for opinions on culture war issues including critical race theory, school choice, and affirmative action.

Blackburn took several of Jackson's statements out of context and set up a line of questioning claiming Jackson supported the "progressive indoctrination" of children.

Cruz pressed Jackson for her views on critical race theory and asked her at one point if she would agree with the teaching that "babies are racist."

Jackson responded that she doesn't believe that "any child should be made to feel as though they are racist, or though they are not valued, or though they are less than, that they are victims, that they are oppressors."

Cotton accused Democrats of "waging a war on the rule of law," railing against Biden and Senate leaders for their handling of COVID-19 vaccine mandates, immigration, and critical race theory.

"We are witnessing a breakdown of society," Cotton said.

Overall, as Insider's Warren Rojas reported, the Republican senators, many of whom are rumored 2024 presidential candidates, seemingly focused on past grievances and grilled Jackson on controversial issues in an attempt to score political points with their party's most fervent ideological voters.

Republicans are positioning culture wars as a key talking point for the 2022 midterm elections to campaign against Democrats and in a bid to win back the House and Senate majorities.

Ketanji Brown Jackson
While listening to U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) speak, Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson wipes away tears during her confirmation hearing on March 23, 2022.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Democrats praise Jackson's record and history-making nomination

Democrats sought to pivot the focus to Jackson's background amid Republicans' intense questioning, praising her character and her record. Yet both Democrats and Republicans also commended Jackson's temperament, patience, and grace as she navigated the hearings.

An emotional moment on Wednesday afternoon dramatically shifted the tone of the otherwise contentious hearings, when Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey emphasized Jackson's historic nomination as the first Black woman tapped for the Supreme Court.

Booker's tribute moved Jackson to tears, who was photographed reaching for tissues to wipe her cheeks.

"You did not get there because of some left-wing agenda. You didn't get here because of some 'dark money' groups," Booker told Jackson, referencing some of the GOP attacks she faced. "You got here how every Black woman in America who's gotten anywhere has done, by being, like Ginger Rogers said, 'I did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards in heels.'"

Booker himself fought back tears when he spoke candidly about how momentous Jackson's ascent is.

"When I look at you — this is why I get emotional — I'm sorry," Booker said. "You're a person that is so much more than your race and gender. You're a Christian. You're a mom. You're an intellect. You love books. But for me, I'm sorry, it's hard for me to look at you and not see my mom, not to see my cousins."

"I see my ancestors and yours," he added. "Nobody's going to steal that joy. You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American."

Jackson's confirmation to the high court is expected so long as she maintains support from all 50 Democratic senators, though the Biden White House and its allies in party leadership are trying to secure a few Republican votes too.

Read the original article on Business Insider