WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson forcefully defended her case as a judge on Tuesday, pushing back against Republican claims that she was soft on crime and declaring she would rule as an “independent jurist” if confirmed as the first black woman on the high court.
During a marathon day and evening of questioning that lasted more than 13 hours, Republicans aggressively pressed Jackson on the sentences she handed down. to sex offenders during his nine years as a federal judge, his advocacy on behalf of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, his thoughts on critical race theory, and even his religious views. At one point, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas read children’s books that he says are taught at his teenage daughter’s school.
Several GOP senators grilled her on her child porn sentences, arguing that they were lighter than federal guidelines recommend. She said she based the sentences on many factors, not just the guidelines, and said some of the cases gave her nightmares.
Could his decisions have endangered children? “As a mother and a judge,” she said, “nothing could be further from the truth.”
In what Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., described as “a trial by ordeal,” Jackson attempted to address GOP concerns and also highlighted the empathetic style on the bench that she frequently described. Republicans on the committee, many of whom have their eyes set on the presidency, have tried to cast her — and Democrats in general — as soft on crime, an emerging theme in GOP midterm election campaigns.
Jackson told the committee that his brother and two uncles were police officers and that “crime and the effect on the community, and the need for law enforcement – these are not abstract concepts or political slogans to me. “.
Tuesday’s hearing was the first of two days of questioning after Jackson and the 22 panel members gave opening statements on Monday.. On Thursday, the committee will hear from legal experts before a possible vote to move his nomination to the Senate.
President Joe 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 after 28 years on the court. Jackson would be the third black judge, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and the sixth woman.
Barring unexpected developments, Democrats who control the Senate by the tiniest of margins hope to wrap up Jackson’s confirmation before Easter, though Breyer won’t leave until the end of the current session this summer.
She said the potential to be the first black woman on the court was “extremely significant” and she had received many letters from young girls. Jackson, who grew up in Miami, noted that she didn’t have to attend racially segregated public schools like her own parents did, “and the fact that we got this far was a testament to me. of the hope and promise of this country.”
His nomination also “supports public confidence in the justice system,” Jackson said.
Democrats have praised Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, noting that she would not only be the first black woman, but also the first public defender on the court, and the first with experience representing indigent defendants since Judge Marshall.
Republicans also hailed that experience, but also questioned it, focusing in particular on the work she did some 15 years ago representing Guantanamo Bay detainees. Jackson said public defenders don’t choose their clients and “defend the constitutional value of representation.” She said she continued to represent a client in private practice because her firm was assigned her file.
Picking up on a thread started by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and amplified by the Republican National Committee in fundraising emails, Cruz asked Jackson about his sentences for child pornographers, at one point taking out a large billboard and circling phrases he found egregious. .
Jackson defended her decisions by saying she takes into account not only sentencing guidelines, but also the stories of the victims, the nature of the offenses and the backgrounds of the defendants.
“A judge doesn’t play a numbers game,” she said. “A judge looks at all of these different factors.”
The White House dismissed the criticism as “toxic and misrepresented misinformation.” And sentencing expert Douglas Berman, an Ohio State law professor, wrote on his blog that while Jackson’s record shows she’s skeptical of the range of prison sentences recommended for child pornography cases, “the prosecutors were also in the majority of his cases and so on”. are district judges throughout the country.
Cruz, Hawley and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton are potential 2024 presidential candidates, and their rounds of interrogation have been among the most combative, touching on popular issues with the GOP base. Cruz asked her about critical race theory, a premise that focuses on the idea that racism is systemic in the country’s institutions. Jackson said the idea didn’t come from his job as a judge and that “it wouldn’t be something I would rely on” if confirmed.
The Texas senator also asked her about his daughter’s private school in Washington, where she sits on the board, referring to a book called “Antiracist Baby” which he said was taught to young children in the school. ‘school.
“Do you agree with this book that teaches children that babies are racist?” Cruz asked.
Visibly annoyed, Jackson paused for a long time. She said no child should feel racist, victimized or oppressive. “I don’t believe in any of that,” she said.
Cotton asked if there should be more police or fewer, a question she declined to answer, and asked her about the drug conviction.
Jackson also bristled at questions from South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who voted to be confirmed as an appeals court judge last year but openly expressed frustration after President Joe Biden chose her over a South Carolina judge. Graham asked her about her religion and how often she attended church, angrily noting that what he said was an unfair criticism of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Catholicism before her confirmation in 2020.
Jackson – who thanked God in her opening statement and said faith “holds me up right now” – replied that she was a Protestant. But she said she was reluctant to talk about her faith in detail because “I want to be aware of the need for the public to have confidence in my ability to separate my personal opinions”.
When asked about the abortion, Jackson readily accepted comments conservative justices Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh made while awaiting confirmation. “Roe and Casey are the established law of the Supreme Court regarding the right to terminate a woman’s pregnancy. They established a framework that the court reaffirmed,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s responses sidestepped a key point: The court is now weighing whether to strike down cases that affirm a national right to abortion.
Late in the day, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., asked Jackson when life begins, she told him she didn’t know, and added, without giving further details, “I have a religious outlook which I set aside when I adjudicate cases.
The White House said Tuesday that Biden watched part of the hearings and was proud of Jackson’s “grace and dignity.”
The president was struck by how “she was quick to dismantle conspiracy theories put forward in bad faith,” White House deputy press secretary Chris Meagher said.
Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko, Lisa Mascaro, Josh Boak, Colleen Long and Kevin Freking in Washington and Aaron Morrison in New York contributed to this report.