“Hearings on Biden’s supreme court nominee resume with chair chiding Republicans for ‘showcasing election talking points’
Ketanji Brown Jackson endured 10 more grueling hours of senators’ questioning on Wednesday, after a marathon 13-hour judiciary committee hearing with the supreme court nominee the day before.
Multiple Republican senators grilled Jackson about her sentences of child abuse image offenders, accusing her of letting the defendants off too easily.
Despite the often abrasive questioning, Jackson offered a message of hope toward the end of the hearing. Democrat Alex Padilla asked Jackson, who will be the first Black woman to serve on the supreme court if confirmed, for her message to young people.
“I want them to know that they can do and be anything,” Jackson said, her voice shaking with emotion. “I would tell them to persevere.”
The beginning of the hearing gave a hint of what was to come, as the Democratic chairman, Dick Durbin, criticized some of his Republican colleagues over their Tuesday questioning of Jackson.
“For many senators, yesterday was an opportunity to showcase talking points for the November election. For example, all Democrats are soft on crime. Therefore, this nominee must be soft on crime,” Durbin said. He told Jackson, “Well, you’ve made a mess of their stereotype.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, the Republican senator Josh Hawley argued Jackson had given lenient sentences to child abuse images offenders. Durbin cited fact-checks showing Jackson’s sentencing practices were fairly typical for federal judges, and he noted she had been endorsed by a number of law enforcement groups, including the Fraternal Order of Police.
But Durbin’s stern words did not prevent Republicans from retreading much of the same ground as Tuesday. Hawley pressed Jackson on whether she regretted giving a three-month sentence to one child abuse images offender.
“What I regret is that, in a hearing about my qualifications to be a justice on the supreme court, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences,” Jackson told Hawley. “No one case can stand in for a judge’s entire record.”
Hawley replied, “I regret that you only gave him three months.”
Democrat Cory Booker later came to Jackson’s defense, saying Republicans were “seeking to exploit the complexities of [the] criminal justice system”. Like other Democrats on the panel, Booker pointed to a column from the right-leaning publication National Review that dismissed Hawley’s allegations of lenient sentences on child abuse images as “meritless to the point of demagoguery”.
“There is an absurdity to this that is almost comical if it was not so dangerous,” Booker said of Republicans’ attacks on Jackson.
Lindsey Graham, a Republican who supported Jackson’s nomination to the DC circuit court last year, joined Hawley in grilling the judge about her sentencing practices. As he went over his allotted questioning time by more than 10 minutes, Graham repeatedly interrupted Jackson to accuse her of failing to properly punish child abuse image offenders, saying her sentences were “making it easier for the children to be exploited”.
Jackson appeared to grow visibly frustrated with Graham’s questioning, and she argued that judges have a responsibility to be “rational in our dealing with some of the most horrible kinds of behavior”.
“This is what our justice system is about. It’s about judges making determinations in meting out penalties to people who have done terrible things,” Jackson told Graham. “Senator, every person in all of these charts and documents I sent to jail because I know how serious this crime is.”
The Republican senator Ted Cruz later picked up where Graham left off, providing specific details of child abuse images cases that Jackson had handled. Like Graham, Cruz consistently interrupted Jackson, denying her an opportunity to respond and then accusing her of refusing to answer his questions.
Durbin jumped in at one point, telling Jackson, “There’s no point in responding. He’s going to interrupt.”
Cruz shot back, “Chairman Durbin, if you want to join her on the bench, you can.”
When Cruz went over his allotted time, Durbin tried to move on to the next questioner. Cruz accused the chairman of refusing to allow Jackson to respond to his final question, claiming Democrats are “very afraid of the American people hearing the answer” to his question about her sentencing practices.
Despite his theatrics, Cruz’s questioning did reveal one interesting tidbit about Jackson’s plans if she is confirmed to the supreme court. When Cruz noted Jackson serves on Harvard University’s board of overseers, she said she would recuse herself from an affirmative action case involving her alma mater, which will come before the supreme court this fall.
The Democrat Jon Ossoff was the first senator who posed questions to the judge on Wednesday. Ossoff and Republican Thom Tillis were the only two senators on the 22-member judiciary committee who did not have an opportunity to question Jackson on Tuesday.
Ossoff asked Jackson about her 2019 ruling that Don McGahn, Donald Trump’s former White House counsel, had to comply with a subpoena from the House judiciary committee. In her ruling, Jackson summarily dismissed Trump’s claims of executive privilege, writing: “Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings.”
On Wednesday, Jackson stood by her ruling in the case, underscoring the importance of the separation of powers in the US government. “Our constitutional scheme, the design of our government, is erected to prevent tyranny,” Jackson said. “The separation of powers is crucial to liberty. It is what our country is founded on.”
As the Senate moves closer to a final vote on Jackson’s nomination, Democrat Pat Leahy voiced optimism about her ultimate confirmation, emphasizing: “You will become a member of the US supreme court.”