Live Updates: Ketanji Brown Jackson Confirmation Hearing

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson pledged Monday to decide cases “without fear or favor” if the Senate upholds her historic nomination as the first black woman to serve on the High Court.

Jackson, 51, thanked God and said he loved ‘our country and the Constitution’ in a 12-minute statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee at the end of its first day of confirmation hearings, nearly four hours devoted almost entirely to remarks from the 22 panel members.

Republicans have promised pointed questions over the next two days, with a particular focus on his criminal record. Democrats have praised President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee.

With her family seated behind her, her husband wearing George Washington socks, Jackson stressed that she was independent, deciding matters “from a neutral position” during her nine years as a judge, and that she was always aware of the importance of this role.

“I have dedicated my career to ensuring that the words carved into the facade of the Supreme Court building – equal justice under the law – are a reality and not just an ideal,” she said. .

Barring a major misstep, Democrats who control the Senate by the tiniest of margins intend to wrap up his confirmation before Easter. She would be the third black judge, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, as well as the first black woman in the high court.

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Jackson’s harshest Republican critics as well as his Democratic defenders have all acknowledged the historic and groundbreaking nature of his presence. There were frequent reminders that no black woman had been appointed to the High Court before her and repeated references to another unique aspect of her appointment: Jackson is the first former public defender appointed to be a judge.

“It’s not easy to be the first. Often you have to be the best, in some ways the bravest,” said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, chairman of the committee, in support.

Democrats have sought to preemptively refute Republican criticism of his criminal record as a judge and before that as a federal public defender and a member of the US Sentencing Commission.

Jackson “is not anti-law enforcement” and is not “soft on crime,” said Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., noting that members of Jackson’s family worked in the law enforcement and that it enjoys the support of some nationals. law enforcement agencies. “Judge Jackson is not a judicial activist.”

The committee’s top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, promised Republicans “would ask tough questions about Jackson’s judicial philosophy,” without turning the hearings into a “show.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., noted that Democrats had opposed some former Republican judicial candidates who were black or Hispanic, and he said he and his GOP colleagues would not be deterred by the race of Jackson to ask probing questions.

He said of some criticism from the left: “It’s about ‘We’re all racists if we ask tough questions’. It’s not going to fly with us.

Graham was one of three Republicans to back confirmation of Jackson, 53-44, as appellate judge last year. But he has indicated in recent weeks that he is unlikely to vote for her again.

While few Republicans are likely to vote for her, most GOP senators have not aggressively criticized Jackson, whose confirmation would not change the court’s 6-3 conservative majority. Several Republicans used their time to rail against Senate Democrats instead of Jackson’s record.

Republicans are trying to use his nomination to brand Democrats 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.

As Jackson silently took notes, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said in her opening statement that her research showed she had a history of handing down lighter sentences in child pornography cases, repeating the comments he had written in a Twitter thread last week. The Republican National Committee echoed his claims, which Hawley did not raise when he questioned Jackson last year before voting against his confirmation by the appeals court.

The White House, along with several Democrats present at the hearing, dismissed Hawley’s criticism as “poisonous and weakly presented misinformation.”

Former Alabama senator Doug Jones, who guides Jackson as she navigates the senatorial process, told reporters afterward that “she’ll be the one to answer a lot of these questions” from Hawley and others Tuesday and Wednesday.

Hawley is one of several Republicans on the committee, along with 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 rather not not pursue a scorched earth approach to Jackson’s nomination.

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 broader than many candidates. She would be the first judge with significant criminal defense experience since Marshall.

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

The American Bar Associationwhich evaluates candidates for the judiciary, gave him its highest rating, “well qualified”.

Biden chose Jackson in February, fulfilling a campaign promise to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court for the first time in American history. She would take the seat of Judge Stephen Breyerwho announced in January that he would retire after 28 years on the pitch.

Jackson previously worked as a paralegal at Breyer early in her legal career. She had particular praise for her former boss, saying she could never fill her shoes. “But if confirmed, I hope to carry on his spirit,” Jackson said.

She also expressed her thanks and love to her husband, Patrick Jackson, a surgeon in Washington who wiped away tears. Their two daughters, one in middle school and the other in high school, were seated in the audience next to him. His parents and in-laws were also present.

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.

While the focus was on Senate hearings, the court was in session Monday, but one chair was empty. Thomas, 73, the senior judge, was in hospital with an infection but does not have COVID-19, the court heard.

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Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Lisa Mascaro and Aaron Morrison in New York contributed to this report.