By questioning Ketanji Brown Jackson, ambitious Republican senators are trying to raise their national profile

And then Cotton took the opportunity to do something else: lay out at length his personal vision of a perfect justice on the Supreme Court.

“I’m looking for a judge who will make decisions based on the law – not based on their personal experiences or preferences, not on empathy, not on desired political outcomes,” he said, after a long litany. summarizing his opinions.

Senators, of course, cannot choose their ideal judges. But presidents do.

For a handful of ambitious Republican senators, Jackson’s confirmation hearing this week served as a high-profile platform to prove their mettle to GOP voters who may one day see their names on a presidential primary ballot.

Among those Republican senators are Cotton, who recently gave a major policy speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and has worked to take the toughest line possible on crime and immigration; Ted Cruz (Texas), the former presidential candidate who on Tuesday sought to cast Jackson as a follower of the controversial academic doctrine known as critical race theory; Josh Hawley (Mo.), who overturned an otherwise sleepy confirmation by accusing Jackson of being unduly sympathetic towards those who possess child pornography; and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), who made a political appearance in New Hampshire State at the start of the primary last week.

Blackburn, amid a flurry of attacks on Jackson, took aim at the nominee’s past service as a federal public defender: “You used your time and talent, not to serve our nation’s veterans or other groups vulnerable, but to provide free legal services to help terrorists get out of Gitmo and back into the fight,” she said Monday, referring to Jackson’s portrayal of four Guantánamo Bay detainees nearly 20 years ago. .

It’s nothing new for ambitious politicians to use klieg lights and hammer-to-hammer cable television coverage of a Supreme Court confirmation hearing to raise their national profile.

When Brett M. Kavanaugh was nominated in 2018, three Democratic senators — Cory Booker (NJ), Kamala D. Harris (California) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) — sat on the Senate Judiciary Committee dais and jockey to score political points just months before launching their presidential campaign. Harris, in fact, erupted with an objection just moments after the hearing was ordered, pressing a partisan dispute over a document.

But Supreme Court confirmation hearings — and judicial appointments in general — have taken on particular resonance for Republicans who have made it a priority to reverse what they see as the liberal drift of the judiciary over the past 60 years. last years. The importance of the courts in GOP politics escalated to the point that Donald Trump released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees during his 2016 campaign in an effort to woo wavering voters, and, to this day , Trump lists his three successful Supreme Court nominations as one of his top presidential accomplishments.

This week, several Republican senators denied any political motivation. Cruz noted that “every senator has a constitutional obligation to engage in advice and consent”, while Hawley said, “I’m just worried about doing my job”.

“If I don’t do my job and go home to the people of Missouri, and they say, ‘You attended that hearing, you didn’t ask any tough questions, you just sort of approved [the nominee]”, that’s what worries me,” Hawley said. “I have to be able to explain myself.”

But there was a clear correlation between the senator’s ambition and the aggressiveness of his arrest. Cotton, Cruz, Hawley and Blackburn have in turn sought to deliver hard political blows to Jackson – the kind of attacks that could color perceptions of future justice for years to come while improving their reputation among voters in the GOP. The themes of their interrogations, meanwhile, also suggested how each senator seizes on the issues that animate the base of his party and tries out ways to carve out a political identity around them.

Hawley kicked things off last week with a Twitter thread accusing Jackson of being soft on child pornography — a bombshell claim that came after the Republican after the Republican pledged to conduct a confirmation process.” dignified,” contrasting it with the elevated drama of Kavanaugh’s audiences.

Independent fact-checkers, including The Washington Post, found that Hawley’s claims — based on Jackson’s record as a US Sentencing Commission member and trial judge — lacked crucial context and ignored widespread disregard for federal judges sentencing guidelines that have not been updated in two decades.

These criticisms did not deter Hawley on Tuesday, nor did the suggestion that his claims indirectly played into the unfounded beliefs of the extremist QAnon ideology, whose adherents believe prominent Democratic politicians are part of a global satanic cult that sexually preys on children. A White House spokesperson accused him Tuesday to deal with an “embarrassing smear, flagging QAnon.”

“I want to try to understand here: do you think society is too hard on sex offenders? Hawley asked, referring to documents that dated back to Jackson’s writings as a law student and peppering his questions with words like “sado-masochistic” and “prepubescent.”

The interrogation created dramatic tension amid an otherwise rote marathon hearing. Hawley highlighted specific cases, including Jackson’s decision to give a 19-year-old child pornography collector a three-month sentence, when the judge sometimes struggled to explain the balancing act she had to lead on the bench.

“If you were to look at as many of, not only my 100+ sentences, but also the sentences of other judges in my district and across the country, you would see a very similar exercise of trying to do what judges do — trying to consider all relevant factors and do justice individually in each case,” she said.

Cotton then picked up where Hawley left off, pressing Jackson on his views on not just child exploitation convictions, but a wide range of violent offenses as he sought to connect Jackson to a wave. increase in crimes and to oppose a recent trend towards leniency. in the federal criminal justice system.

“An elite group of lawyers — whether federal judges or prosecutors, public defenders or law professors — think the sentences for child pornography are too harsh,” Cotton said. “I don’t. And I bet a lot of normal Americans don’t either.

He then questioned his re-conviction of a self-proclaimed heroin “kingpin,” whom Jackson originally sentenced to 20 years in prison, only to have the sentence reduced following a compassionate release petition. Jackson offered a detailed account of the case and the complex circumstances surrounding the conviction, including the role of Congress in changing the law he violated.

Cotton brushed off the explanation: “You twisted the law and rewrote it so you could reduce a drug lord’s sentence – that’s what you did, judge.”

And then there’s Cruz, who not only hammered Jackson on the child pornography cases, but also sought to tie her to perhaps the main bogeyman of the contemporary right – the threat of critical race theory, a doctrine once-obscure academic that examines how racism is embedded in the legal systems and policies that have become a label used by prominent Republicans for a range of targets in American culture.

“Critical race theory presents all of society as a fundamental and insoluble battle between races. He views every conflict as a racial conflict,” Cruz told Jackson. “Do you think that’s an accurate way to see society in the world we live in?”

“Senator, I don’t think so,” said a puzzled Jackson, “but I’ve never studied critical race theory, and I’ve never used it. as a judge.

And then came “Antiracist Baby” – a children’s book by Ibrahim X. Kendi that Cruz said was on the reading list of Georgetown Day School, the private DC institution where Jackson was a board member. administration. It was part of a pile of volumes that Cruz brought to the stage and waved in front of the cameras.

“Are you comfortable with these ideas being taught to children as young as 4 years old?” He asked.

“I haven’t reviewed any of those books, any of those ideas,” Jackson replied. “They do not appear in my work as a judge, which I am respectfully here to address.”

Speaking to Jackson late Tuesday night, Blackburn began by asking the candidate about that perpetual benchmark for conservative critics of a liberal justice system — abortion and the plight of Roe vs. Wade. Blackburn pressed Jackson on a memoir she signed that called anti-abortion activists “a hostile, noisy mob of ‘opposite’ protesters.”

“When you go to church and you know there are pro-life women there, do you look at them, do you think of them that way – that they’re loud, hostile, in your face?” she asked. “Do you think of them, do you think of pro-life women like me that way?”

“Senator, that was a statement in a brief written to plead my client’s case,” Jackson replied. “That’s not how I think or characterize people.”

Blackburn quickly moved on to more fashionable concerns on the right: critical race theory and gender identity. She expressed disbelief that Jackson hadn’t been harassed by parents about the books Cruz had highlighted – “Georgetown Day School is a private school; it’s not a public school,” Jackson reminded him — before asking the judge about the 1996 opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg overturning the Military Institute’s male-only policy. Virginia.

“Do you interpret Judge Ginsburg’s meaning of ‘men’ and ‘women’ as ‘man’ and ‘woman’?” she asked a confused Jackson. “Can you give a definition for the word ‘woman’?”

“Not in this context,” replied the judge. “I am not a biologist.

Says Blackburn, “The fact that you can’t give me a straight answer on something as fundamental as what a woman is underscores the dangers of the kind of progressive education we hear about.”

Less than an hour later, her office issued a press release: “BREAKING: Judge Jackson cannot define ‘woman.’ ”

Paul Kane contributed to this report.


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