Ketanji Brown Jackson, 1st black woman chosen to Supreme Court, faces Senate Judiciary Committee

WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee begins historic confirmation hearings Monday for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who would be the first black woman on the Supreme Court.

Barring a major misstep by Jackson, 51, a federal judge for nine years, Democrats who control the Senate by the narrowest of margins intend to wrap up her confirmation before Easter.

Jackson is expected to deliver an opening statement Monday afternoon and then take questions from the committee’s 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans over the next two days. It will be presented by Thomas B. Griffith, retired judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Lisa M. Fairfax, professor at the Carey Law School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Jackson appeared before the same committee last year, after President Joe Biden selected her to fill a position on the federal appeals court in Washington, just down the hill from the Supreme Court.

Her testimony will give most Americans, as well as the Senate, their most in-depth look yet at the Harvard-educated lawyer with a resume that includes two years as a federal public defender. This makes her the first candidate with significant criminal defense experience since Thurgood Marshall, the first black American to serve on the nation’s highest court.

In addition to being the first black woman on the Supreme Court, Jackson would be the third black justice, after Marshall and his successor, Justice Clarence Thomas.

The American Bar Association, which evaluates judicial candidates, gave Jackson its highest rating on Friday, unanimously “well qualified.”

Janette McCarthy Wallace, general counsel for the NAACP, said she was thrilled to see a black woman on her way to a high court seat.

“Representation matters,” Wallace said. “It is essential to have a diverse experience on the bench. It should reflect the rich cultural diversity of this country.”

It’s unclear just how aggressively Republicans will take on Jackson, given his confirmation wouldn’t alter the court’s 6-3 conservative majority.

Still, some Republicans have signaled they could use Jackson’s nomination to try to cast Democrats as soft on crime, an emerging theme in GOP midterm election campaigns. Biden has chosen several former public defenders for lifelong judicial positions. Additionally, Jackson served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency created by Congress to reduce federal prison sentencing disparity.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., pointed to a potential line of attack. “I have noticed an alarming trend regarding Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, particularly those who prey on children,” Hawley wrote on Twitter last week in a thread picked up by the Committee. National Republican. Hawley did not raise the issue when he interviewed Jackson last year before voting against his confirmation by the appeals court.

The White House forcefully pushed back against the criticism calling it “toxic and poorly presented misinformation.” Sentencing expert Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State, wrote on his blog that Jackson’s record shows that she is skeptical of the range of prison sentences recommended for the cases of child pornography,” but so do prosecutors in the majority of his cases and so do district judges across the country.”

Hawley is one of several Republicans on the committee, with the senses. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who are potential 2024 presidential candidates, and their aspirations could collide with other Republicans who would simply rather not pursue a scorched-earth approach to La Jackson’s appointment.

Biden chose Jackson in February, fulfilling a campaign promise to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court for the first time in American history. She would take the seat of Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced in January that he would retire this summer after 28 years on the court.

Jackson previously worked as a clerk in the High Court of Breyer early in his legal career.

Democrats are moving quickly to confirm Jackson, though Breyer’s seat won’t officially open until the summer. They have no vote to spare in a 50-50 Senate they lead under the deciding vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.

But they aren’t moving as fast as Republicans did when they installed Amy Coney Barrett on the court just over a month after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and days before the 2020 presidential election.

Barrett, the third of President Donald Trump’s high court picks, cemented the court’s conservative majority when she took the place of the liberal Ginsburg.

Last year, Jackson won Senate confirmation by a vote of 53 to 44, with three Republicans supporting her. It’s unclear how many Republicans might vote for her this time.

Jackson is married to Patrick Johnson, a surgeon in Washington. They have two daughters, one in middle school and the other in high school. She is related by marriage to former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who was also the Republican running mate in 2012. Ryan has expressed support for Jackson’s nomination.

Jackson explained how her children have kept her in touch with reality, even as she has held a judge’s gavel since 2013. In the courtroom, she told an audience in Athens, Georgia, in 2017, “people listen and usually do what I tell them to do.”

At home, however, her daughters “make it very clear that I don’t know anything, I mustn’t tell them anything, let alone give them orders, that is, if they talk to me at all,” said Jackson.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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