Ketanji Brown Jackson: US Supreme Court nominee deflects Republican attacks

Democratic leaders defend nominee and show support in historic confirmation hearing

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 23, 2022. AP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Republicans on Wednesday pressed their attacks on a range of issues against Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden's nominee to become the first black woman on the US Supreme Court, as she inched closer to the end of an intense two days of questioning with Democrats coming to her defence.

Ms Jackson, who had remained even-tempered throughout marathon questioning during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, showed impatience over repeated questions posed by Republicans who accused her of being too lenient as a judge in sentencing child pornography offenders.

Republican Josh Hawley again pressed her on one child pornography case in which Ms Jackson imposed a three-month sentence. He asked her if she regretted the sentence.

“Senator, what I regret is that during 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,” Ms Jackson responded.

Ms Jackson since last year has served as a federal appellate judge after eight years as a federal district judge. She noted that she had sentenced more than 100 people as a judge.

Democrats and sentencing experts have said Ms Jackson's approach to child pornography sentencing was similar to the vast majority of federal judges.

Republican Lindsey Graham, who repeatedly interrupted Ms Jackson as she was trying to answer his questions, told her that “every judge who does what you're doing is making it easier for these children to be exploited".

“I know how serious these crimes are,” Ms Jackson said in her defence and added that her approach was to ensure “the most serious offenders get the longest time".

Democrat Dick Durbin, the committee's chairman, pushed back on Republican requests for more information on Mr Jackson's child pornography cases, saying the issue had already been debated in detail over two days.

“There is an absurdity to this that is almost comical if it was not so dangerous,” Democrat Cory Booker said of the Republican attacks.

“You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American,” Mr Booker told Ms Jackson, who could be seen wiping a tear from her eye.

Ketanji Brown Jackson during the third day of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Pool via Reuters

So far, there is no sign that the Republican attacks are likely to derail Ms Jackson's confirmation, with Democrats narrowly controlling the Senate.

With a simple majority needed for confirmation and the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties, she would get the job if Democrats remain united regardless of how the Republicans vote.

Under questioning from her former Harvard Law School classmate Ted Cruz, Ms Jackson said that if confirmed to the lifetime job she planned not to participate in a major Supreme Court case involving the university because she serves on its board of overseers.

The case, to be heard in the court's next term that begins in October, involves a challenge to the affirmative action admissions policy Harvard uses to increase its number of black and Hispanic students.

Her confirmation would not change the court's ideological balance — it has a 6-3 conservative majority — but would let Mr Biden freshen its liberal bloc with a 51-year-old jurist young enough to serve for decades. The Democratic president nominated Ms Jackson last month to the lifetime post to succeed retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer.

Facing more long hours of often-antagonistic questioning during the hearing's third day, she remained mostly unflappable, beginning most responses with a polite, “Thank you, Senator.”

Mr Durbin praised Ms Jackson for her poise and said some Republicans had used the hearing as “an opportunity to showcase talking points for the November election” when control of Congress is up for grabs, including the argument that Democrats are “soft on crime".

“Well, you have made a mess of their stereotype,” Mr Durbin said, pointing to the fact that she has been endorsed by various law enforcement groups.

Republicans also have criticised her legal representation earlier in her career of some detainees at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while trying to link Ms Jackson to activist groups on the left and to “critical race theory”, which argues American history and institutions are infused with racial bias.

There are signs that not all Republican senators agree with going after Ms Jackson's record on sentencing.

Republican Thom Tillis said during the hearing he was “sympathetic to some of it, not necessarily all of it” when describing claims made by his colleagues. Republican Mitt Romney told The Washington Post the attacks on Ms Jackson were “off course".

Ms Jackson's testimony is due to end on Wednesday, with outside experts scheduled for Thursday's final day of the hearing.

If confirmed, Ms Jackson would be the 116th justice to serve on the high court, the sixth woman and the third black person. With her on the bench, the court for the first time would have four women and two black justices.

Updated: March 24, 2022, 4:17 AM