NC’s Tillis among 22 Judiciary Committee members who will evaluate first Black woman nominated to the nation’s highest court
After more than two weeks of private meetings with nearly half the U.S. Senate, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, will field questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee in highly anticipated public hearings that begin today.
Members of the panel will question Jackson for two full days, following opening statements by the nominee and senators Monday. Each committee member will have 30 minutes to question Jackson on Tuesday and another 20 minutes on Wednesday — though they may not use all that time.
Jackson would make history as the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. She’s been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, considered the nation’s second-highest court, since last year.
Originally from Miami, Jackson graduated from Harvard Law School. She worked as a public defender — another potential first for the Supreme Court — was a federal district court and vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat from Alabama who is coordinating Jackson’s meetings with senators, said in a tweet last Thursday that Jackson had met with 44 senators, including all 22 members of the Judiciary Committee. She began those visits shortly after Biden announced his intent to nominate her to replace the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer late last month.
North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis — a member of the Judiciary Committee — met with Jackson earlier this month and afterward issued a brief statement that seemed to forecast a “no” vote. Tillis opposed Jackson’s nomination to the Court of Appeals.
Before the committee hears from Jackson, she will be introduced by supporters Monday morning. Those supporters have yet to be announced. Home-state senators often appear in that role; Justice Amy Coney Barrett was introduced by both Indiana’s senators at her confirmation hearing in 2020. But Jackson, of the District of Columbia, has no representation in the Senate.
The hearings will close Thursday, with the American Bar Association and “other outside witnesses,” testifying, according to a scheduling notice from the committee.
GOP points of attack
The White House and Jackson’s supporters have said they hope for bipartisan Senate approval, but that would mean only a handful of GOP yes votes at best.
If no Republicans vote for Jackson, Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black woman elected to that position, would break a 50-50 tie.
Only three Republicans — Maine’s Susan Collins, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski — voted to confirm Jackson for her current role on the D.C. Circuit. None has publicly committed to voting for her for the Supreme Court.
Another three Republican senators — Judiciary Committee member Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Marco Rubio of Florida and Roy Blunt of Missouri — did not vote on her D.C. Circuit confirmation.
Republicans have been relatively quiet in their criticism of Jackson directly, though they have found reasons to complain about a process they have called unnecessarily rushed and about some groups that support her.
Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who is the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the administration was withholding records from Jackson’s time on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
“By her supporters’ own accounts, Judge Jackson’s service on the sentencing commission is an important part of her experience, so her records there must be part of a thorough review,” Grassley said. “This request falls squarely within the committee’s normal practices.”
Although he called her “clearly a sharp lawyer with an impressive resume,” Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has criticized Jackson’s support from “radical” liberal groups that endorse adding seats to the Supreme Court to balance its ideology.
Missouri’s Josh Hawley, a member of the Judiciary Committee, accused Jackson in a Wednesday Twitter thread of being too lenient on child sex offenders.
The White House dismissed Hawley’s claims. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said some of Hawley’s research was taken out of context and that, as a trial judge, Jackson had largely stayed within sentencing guidelines or issued stronger sentences.
“Attempts to smear or discredit her history and her work are not borne out in facts,” she said.
Psaki also attacked Hawley’s credibility on child sex crimes, noting that when he was Missouri attorney general, he hedged when asked if he would vote for Senate candidate Roy Moore. Moore was credibly accused during the campaign of pursuing, and assaulting, teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
“I’m not sure that someone who refused to tell people whether or not he would vote for Roy Moore is an effective and credible messenger on this,” Psaki said Thursday.
Jackson has received endorsements from several groups and influential people in the legal community, spanning political affiliations.
Groups representing law enforcement and victims’ families recommended Jackson, including Patrick Yoes, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, a group which is often aligned against Democrats’ efforts at police reform. Yoes said Jackson had shown herself to be fair and consistent.
A group of self-described conservatives, who had worked as prosecutors or in elected roles, endorsed her.
Ninety-one former state attorneys general sent the committee a letter endorsing Jackson. Democrats made up most of that slate, though a few Republicans also signed on.
Throughout United States history, white men have been writing, enforcing and interpreting laws, more than 200 Black women law professors wrote.
“Representation matters,” they said. “It is essential to fairness, justice, and the Court’s legitimacy. All of these are weakened when its justices neither look like the rest of the United States nor reflect the values of a segment of society.”
Jackson, they added, “is one of the brightest legal minds in the country,” and “is eminently qualified” to sit on the bench.
The Senate Judiciary chairman is Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois. Other Democrats on the committee are Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Dianne Feinstein of California, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Chris Coons of Delaware, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Alex Padilla of California and Jon Ossoff of Georgia.
Along with Tillis, the Republicans are Grassley, Sasse, Hawley, Graham, John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Kennedy of Louisiana and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.