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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 on child porn cases, whether she’s soft on crime, and whether she’ll be unbiased on the court.
“[Y]ou come froma 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.”
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, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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 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.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the fourth days of hearing on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool) (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)
“This isgoing 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. In his comments, Hawley laid out several examples of cases in which Jackson gave child porn offenders fewer months in prison than either sentencing guidelines recommended or federal prosecutors requested.
In one case, Hawley said, federal guidelines recommended 151-188 months in prison and the prosecution asked for 72 months in prison. Jackson gave the defendant 60 months, Hawley said, “which was the lowest sentence permitted by the law.”
“What concerns me… is that in every [child porn] case [in which she had discretion]… Judge Jackson handed down a lenient sentence that was below what the federal guidelines recommended,” 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 noted that Jackson has not yet publicly responded to his comments on her child porn record. He said he publicly raised those issues before the hearing because he wasn’t interested in “trapping” Jackson but instead in getting her answers.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also pushed back on Hawley preemptively. He said the attacks on Jackson’s record on child porn cases are “simply unfounded… unprovable.. simply false.”
“There is simply no evidence to support these unfounded attacks,” Blumenthal added.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was also among the Democrats who dismissed the GOP attacks against Jackson as off-base.
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, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
“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.
U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) meets U.S. Supreme Court nominee and federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, in his office at the United States Capitol building in Washington, U.S., March 9, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein (REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)
GOP attacks are unlikely to keep Jackson from being confirmed with Democrats holding the thin Senate majority. And Republicans stressed repeatedly 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 also not lost in the hearing room Monday.
“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.”
“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.” Durbin said Jackson will inspire “millions.”
“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.