Supreme Court nominee judge Ketanji Brown Jackson pushes back on GOP critics and defends record in preliminary round of interrogation

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson strongly defended her record as a judge on Tuesday, pushing back against Republican claims she was lenient with crime and declaring she would rule as an “independent lawyer” if confirmed as the first black woman. woman in the high. right.

In a marathon day of interrogation that stretched into the night, Republicans aggressively questioned Jackson about the convictions she has handed down to sex offenders during her nine years as a federal judge, her advocacy on behalf of Guantanamo Bay terror suspects, her thoughts on critical race theory and even her religious views. At one point, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas read from children’s books that he said were taught at her teenage daughter’s school.

Several GOP senators grilled her on her child pornographic sentences, claiming they were lighter than the federal guidelines recommend. She said she based the sentences on many factors, not just the guidelines, and said some of the cases had given her nightmares.

Could her decisions have put children at risk? “As a mother and judge,” she said, “nothing could be further from the truth.”

In what the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Described as “a trial,” Jackson tried to answer the GOP’s concerns and also highlight the empathic style of the bench, which she has often described. The committee’s Republicans, several of whom have their eyes fixed on the presidency, tried to label her – and Democrats in general – as soft on crime, an emerging theme in the GOP’s midterm election campaigns.

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Jackson told the committee that her brother and two uncles acted as police officers and that “crime and the impact on society and the need for law enforcement – these are not abstract concepts or political slogans for me.”

Tuesday’s hearing was the first of two days of questioning after Jackson and the 22 panel members made opening statements Monday. On Thursday, the committee will hear from legal experts before a possible vote to move her nomination to the Senate.

President Joe Biden elected Jackson in February and fulfilled a campaign promise to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court for the first time in American history. She would take over as judge Stephen Breyer, who in January announced he would retire after 28 years in court. Jackson would be the third black justice after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas and the sixth woman.

Aside from an unexpected development, Democrats controlling the Senate by the slightest margin hope to complete Jackson’s confirmation before Easter, though Breyer does not leave until the current session ends this summer.

She said the potential to become the first black woman on the pitch is “extremely meaningful” and that she had received many letters from young girls. Jackson, who grew up in Miami, remarked that she had not had to go to racially segregated public schools, as her own parents did, “and the fact that we had come this far was for me a proof of hope and promised in this country. “

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Her nomination “also supports public confidence in the judiciary,” Jackson said.

Democrats have been full of praise for Biden’s candidate for the Supreme Court, noting that she would be not only the first black woman but also the first public defender on the court, and only with experience representing poor criminal defendants since Judge Marshall.

The Republicans also praised this experience, but also questioned it, focusing in particular on the work she did about 15 years ago to represent the Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Jackson said public defenders do not elect their clients and “stand up for the constitutional value of representation.” She said she continued to represent a client in private practice because her company happened to be assigned his case.

Cruz intercepted a thread started by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and reinforced by the Republican National Committee in fundraising emails, questioning Jackson about her convictions for child pornography, and at one point he brought a large poster and circulated sentences as he said , that he found serious. .

Jackson defended her decisions by saying that she not only takes into account the guidelines for sentencing, but also the stories of the victims, the nature of the offenses and the history of the defendants.

“A referee does not play a number game,” she said. “A judge looks at all of these different factors.”

The White House has dismissed the criticism as “toxic and weakly presented misinformation.” And sentencing expert Douglas Berman, an Ohio state law professor, wrote on his blog that while Jackson’s records show she is skeptical of the range of prison sentences recommended in child pornography cases, “prosecutors were also in the majority of Her cases and the same are district judges nationwide. “

Cruz, Hawley and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton are potential presidential candidates in 2024, and their polls were some of the most contentious, hitting issues popular with the GOP base. Cruz asked her about critical race theory, a premise that centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions. Jackson said the idea does not come up in her work as a judge and it “would not be something I would trust” if confirmed.

The Texas senator also asked her about her daughter’s private school in Washington, where she sits on the board, and brought a book called “Antiracist Baby,” which he said was taught to younger children at the school.

“Do you agree with this book that is being taught to children that babies are racist?” asked Cruz.

Visibly annoyed, Jackson took a long break. She said no children should be made to feel like they are racists, victims or oppressors. “I do not believe in any of that,” she said.

Cotton asked if there should be more police or fewer, a question she refused to answer, and asked her about drug conviction.

Jackson also quarreled over questions from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who voted for her confirmation as a judge of appeals last year, but who has openly expressed her frustration after President Joe Biden chose her over a South Carolina judge. Graham asked her about her religion and how often she attends church, and angrily remarked that what he said was unfair criticism of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Catholicism prior to her confirmation in 2020.

Jackson – who thanked God in her opening statement and said that faith “stays with me in this moment” – replied that she is a Protestant. But she said she is reluctant to talk about her beliefs in detail because “I want to be aware of the need for the public to trust my ability to separate my personal views.”

Asked about abortion, Jackson readily agreed with comments made by Conservative judges Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh when they were due for confirmation. “Roe and Casey are the Supreme Court’s established law on the right to terminate a woman’s pregnancy. They have established a framework that the court has confirmed,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s response revolved around a key point: The court is currently considering whether to override the cases that affirm a nationwide right to abortion.

Near the end of the day, Senator John Kennedy, R-La., Asked Jackson when life begins. She told him she did not know, adding without elaborating, “I have a religious point of view that I set aside when I make decisions in cases.”

The White House said Tuesday that Biden had seen part of the hearings and was proud of Jackson’s “grace and dignity.”

The president was struck by how “she quickly dismantled conspiracy theories put forward in bad faith,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Chris Meagher.


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.

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