For Supreme Court nominee Ketnaji Brown Jackson, the easy part of a Senate confirmation hearing is over. Then comes the questions – 7 p.m. over two days.
Jackson, 51, was sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, delivering an opening statement and reintroducing himself to the nation.
“I hope you will see how much I love our country, the Constitution and the rights that set us free,” she told senators who will vote on her historic nomination.
On Tuesday, Jackson will draw on his three prior experiences questioned by the Judiciary Committee — more than any other candidate in 30 years — as his 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats take turns probing his judicial philosophy, his record as a public defender and his legal opinions spanning nearly nine years on the bench.
“It’s a new game for the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of three Republicans who voted to confirm Jackson to the DC Circuit, the nation’s second highest court, the last year.
Jackson has spent the past several weeks practicing for the spotlight in mock sessions conducted with White House staff, sources familiar with the preparations told ABC News. She also met individually with each of the committee members and 23 other senators from both parties.
Each senator will receive a 30-minute solo round of questioning on Tuesday, totaling more than 11 hours if each uses their allotted time. The fence is unlike any other for federal judges or political candidates largely because of the lifetime term on the line.
Investigate Jackson’s criminal record
While Democrats have highlighted the historic nature of Jackson’s nomination and her compelling personal story, Republicans have vowed a “thorough and civil” review of her case in hundreds of cases, which some say shows she is “soft on crime”.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri has delivered the sharpest criticism of Jackson’s case so far, accusing him of a ‘long record’ of letting child porn offenders ‘off the hook’ at sentencing .
During his statement Monday, Hawley raised seven child pornography offender cases in which Jackson handed down sentences below federal guidelines while in district court. (About 60% of sentences in such cases are less than the guidelines suggest, according to the US Sentencing Commission, and in most cases cited by Hawley, federal prosecutors have asked for shorter sentences than the guidelines suggest. .)
“I’m not interested in trying to play gotcha,” Hawley told Jackson. “I’m interested in her responses because I found during our time together that she was extremely thoughtful, extremely accomplished and I suspect she has a coherent vision, an explanation, a way of thinking about this that I want to hear.”
The White House and several independent fact-checkers called the claims misleading and unfair. The National Review, a conservative publication, called the allegations “baseless to the point of grandstanding” and “defamation”.
Spotlight on Jackson’s defense of inmate Gitmo
Republicans have made it clear they will also target Jackson’s defense of an accused terrorist being held at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay – a case she has been assigned as a federal public defender.
“You have used your time and talent not to serve our country’s veterans or other vulnerable groups, but to provide free legal services to help terrorists get out of Gitmo and get back to fighting,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
Jackson has previously explained his service as an example of belief in constitutional values - the right of every person to a defense in the American justice system – and noted his personal connection to the sacrifices of the American military after 9/11. Her brother is a veteran.
Defining a judicial philosophy
Several Republicans have said they plan to pressure Jackson to characterize his judicial philosophy.
At her confirmation hearing last year, Jackson said bluntly that she “had no judicial philosophy per se, other than to apply the same method of thorough analysis to every case, regardless of the parts”.
Conservative jurists tend to take a narrower view of constitutional and legal interpretation, sticking only to the text and its original meaning at the time it was written. Liberal jurists tend to take a broader view, taking into account the intent of legislators and the changing context around aspects of the law.
“In any Supreme Court nomination, the most important thing I look for is the nominee’s perspective on the law,” said senior Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. “I will seek to see if Judge Jackson is committed to the Constitution as originally understood.”
Race, Affirmative Action, and Liberal Priorities
As Republicans have sought to downplay race issues, Jackson’s ties to Harvard University and an upcoming major High Court case involving the school’s use of race in admissions could open the door to this type of investigation. She would be on the bench to hear the case if confirmed.
Several GOP senators also signaled Monday that they intend to pressure Jackson to respond to progressive legal advocacy groups supporting both her nomination and an enlargement of the Supreme Court bench, or “packaging.” of the court”, which the current judges oppose.
“We have to protect the court,” Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said, hinting he would seek out Jackson to disavow the groups’ activities.
Trump administration decisions
Former President Donald Trump was mentioned only once by name during Monday’s hearing, but several decisions Jackson made against the Trump administration will likely be considered on Tuesday.
“I’m eager to understand why in some cases you found you couldn’t decide a particular issue while in other cases you barred a Republican administration from implementing its policies,” the official said. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, alluding to some of those rulings.
In one case cited by conservatives, Jackson blocked a Trump administration plan to expedite deportations because the policy change likely violated the Administrative Procedures Act and was “arbitrary and capricious.” The DC Circuit later reversed the decision.
Jackson’s ruling that Trump’s former White House lawyer Don McGahn must comply with a congressional subpoena over administration objections will also draw attention.
“Presidents are not kings,” Jackson wrote. “On the contrary, in this country of the free, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the people of the United States, and that they are sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. “
The next two days of questioning could prove critical to the White House’s goal of garnering at least some Republican support for Jackson’s confirmation. Three GOP senators voted in favor of his nomination to the DC Circuit. But Democrats also have the right to vote for Jackson’s confirmation, which party leaders have said they plan to complete before Easter.