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U.S. Senate winds up grueling Supreme Court hearings on Ketanji Brown Jackson nomination

By: - March 24, 2022 4:51 pm

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 23, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – Representatives of the American Bar Association reiterated their finding that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is well qualified to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and law enforcement groups rebutted GOP accusations Jackson is soft on child pornographers during the final day of Jackson’s confirmation hearings Thursday.

Republicans, however, called in witnesses to continue hammering away at Jackson’s record, while the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee singled out Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ben Sasse of Nebraska for praise for not joining in attacks on Jackson.

Sasse remarked Wednesday that some senators had a habit of “jackassery” in their bids for camera attention.

Following two days of sometimes intense questioning of Jackson, Thursday’s hearing was more relaxed as senators questioned three members of the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary and other outside witnesses.

Jackson was absent from the hearing, since nominees do not normally attend, as were several members of the committee.

The ABA panel had given Jackson its highest rating of “well-qualified” for the Supreme Court, and the three lead evaluators of the standing committee gave glowing reviews of Jackson’s record to the senators. They said 250 judges, attorneys and academics with first-hand experience working with Jackson found she had the highest integrity and intellect and was unfailingly fair.

“Everyone we talked to, interviewed or had substantive contact with uniformly gave the highest praise: brilliant, beyond reproach, first-rate, patient, insightful, impeccable, A-plus,” Ann Claire Williams, a retired federal judge said.

The evaluators also said Jackson was undeniably within the mainstream in her sentencing practices, a focal point of criticism from some Republicans who attacked the sentences she gave child pornography offenders.

The group’s review included evaluations from prosecutors, none of whom judged Jackson to be soft on crime, as some Republicans on the panel tried to paint her during the previous three days of hearings.

“One prosecutor stated that Judge Jackson was generally regarded by his office as ‘a good draw,’ because as he put it, ‘She is a smart judge without any biases, which is all we’re asking for,’” said D. Jean Veta, the panel’s representative from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Frederick L. Thomas, a captain in the East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Sheriff’s Office and the national president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, testified that the group representing Black police officers was honored to endorse Jackson.

“Judge Jackson has demonstrated deep knowledge and respect for the law, balanced judgment, and unwavering commitment to justice,” he said.

Jackson, who grew up in Miami and attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School, would be the first Black woman to sit on the high court if confirmed.

‘Beyond the pale’

At the outset of Thursday’s hearing, Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, praised the Senate panel’s conduct over the prior three days.

He specifically thanked Grassley, the ranking Republican on the committee, for his “high degree of integrity.”

Most of the 11 Republicans on the panel conducted themselves professionally, Durbin said. The only exceptions came from a handful whose attacks, he said, were “beyond the pale.”

“Some of the attacks on this judge were unfair, unrelenting and beneath the dignity of the United States Senate,” Durbin said. “My lasting impression is a judge who sat there through it all, head held high with dignity and determination and strength.”

Durbin commended Grassley and Sasse by name for their conduct.

U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, an Ohio Democrat who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, thanked CBC member Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., for his Wednesday remarks to Jackson that focused on the significance of having a Black woman confirmed to the court.

It is important for young people to see those of all backgrounds in the highest positions in the country, Beatty told the Senate panel.

“It spoke not only to Black America, but to America, of how valuable this will be,” Beatty said. “Because what we will see when she is confirmed is what America looks like.”

Republicans continue critiques

After hearing from the ABA panel, a group of 10 outside witnesses — five invited by Democrats and five by Republicans — testified.

The Republican witnesses appeared to have been selected to continue lines of criticism that GOP senators raised repeatedly throughout the week, including that Jackson lacked a coherent judicial philosophy and was too lenient in sentencing as a trial judge, particularly in cases involving child pornography.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn said Thursday she was unsatisfied with Jackson’s answers about her judicial philosophy.

“We had a very difficult time — we never got her to nail down her judicial philosophy,” Blackburn said. “That concerned us.”

Jennifer Mascott, a law professor at George Mason University invited to testify by Republicans, said that a judge’s philosophy is critical, and that Jackson had indicated she would depart from the strict textualist philosophies of conservative Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, the late Antonin Scalia, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Jackson said repeatedly Tuesday and Wednesday that her methodology as a working judge stood in for the more academic concept of judicial philosophy. Her methodology, she said throughout the week, including in her Monday opening statement, was rooted in the goal of approaching each case from a “neutral posture.”

Mascott told North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis that Jackson’s testimony earlier in the week indicated that she would look “to a variety of sources” — not only text — when developing opinions.

Risa Goluboff, a Democratic witness and dean of the University of Virginia law school who, like Jackson, clerked for the retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, told the panel Jackson based her legal conclusions on existing authorities.

“It is absolutely my view that she does not get outside her lane,” Goluboff said. “She is, I think, quite consistent and very committed to the text and to precedent.”

Tillis called Jackson “eminently qualified,” and said other Republicans likely agreed.

Tillis voted against Jackson’s confirmation to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year, though, and he appeared to have reservations about Jackson’s views on the free speech rights of anti-abortion advocates.

Earlier in the week, he asked Jackson about her brief in a case asking that women seeking abortions are provided a “buffer zone” to keep activists trying to dissuade them from the procedure.

In the brief, Jackson said some activists could be hostile, noisy and “in-your-face.” Thursday, Tillis questioned one such “sidewalk counselor,” Eleanor McCullen, a smiling and amiable woman who carries cards that read, “hope, health and love” and was a GOP witness Thursday.

“You’re either an Oscar-winning actress or the fact of the matter is that was a wholly unfair description of who you are,” Tillis said.

Anti-human-trafficking witness

Alesandra Serano, a former federal prosecutor who is now an executive with the anti-human-trafficking group Operation Underground Railroad, told Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., that demand for online child pornography helped drive sex trafficking of children.

Hawley had spent much of his time over the week focusing on Jackson’s sentencing in several child pornography cases that he said was too lenient.

Serano told Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who’d also zeroed in on child pornography cases, that she was not familiar with Jackson’s sentencing record, but generally favored judges imposing harsher sentences for offenders caught with more child pornographic material.

The committee is scheduled to meet Monday to consider the Jackson nomination but is not expected to vote until April 4. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to bring Jackson’s nomination up for a floor vote by April 8, ahead of a Senate recess.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a Thursday floor speech he would not support Jackson’s confirmation.

“I cannot and will not support Judge Jackson for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court,” McConnell said.

It’s not clear if any other Republicans will vote for her confirmation.

 

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.

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