WASHINGTON (AP) — Legal experts and interest groups will weigh in on Ketanji Brown Jackson as the Senate Judiciary Committee wraps up four days of hearings on her historic nomination to become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.
Jackson faced down a barrage of Republican questioning over two days about her sentencing of criminal defendants, her bid to join the Supreme Court veering from lofty constitutional questions to attacks on her motivations on the bench.
On Thursday, the last day of hearings, interest groups including the American Bar Association and civil rights organizations will testify about Jackson’s suitability for the court. Witnesses chosen by Republican senators will also speak.
The American Bar Association, which evaluates judicial nominees, last week gave Jackson its highest rating, unanimously “well qualified.”
On Wednesday, her final day of Senate questioning, Jackson declared she would rule “without any agendas” as the high court’s first Black female justice and rejected Republican efforts to paint her as soft on crime in her decade on the federal bench.
The GOP criticism at her confirmation hearing was punctuated with effusive praise from Democrats, and by reflections on the historic nature of her nomination — none more riveting in the room than from New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who used his time not to ask questions but to tearfully speak and draw tears from Jackson as well.
Booker, who is Black, said that he sees “my ancestors and yours” when he looks at her. “I know what it’s taken for you to sit here in this seat,” he said. “You have earned this spot.”
Jackson was silent as Booker talked, but tears rolled down her face, her family sitting behind her.
Jackson was in tears a second time after similar praise from Sen. Alex Padilla, and she responded to the California Democrat that she hopes to be an inspiration because “I love this country, because I love the law.”
Though her approval seems all but sure — Democrats are aiming for a vote before Easter — Republicans kept trying to chip away at her record.
In more than 22 hours of hearings, GOP senators aggressively questioned Jackson on the sentences she has handed down to child pornography offenders in her nine years as a federal judge, her legal advocacy on behalf of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, her thoughts on critical race theory and even her religious views.
Tempers rose as Wednesday’s hearing wore on, with Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., slamming down his gavel at one point when Cruz refused to yield after his time expired while he was grilling Jackson.
“You can bang it as long as you want,” Cruz snapped, shouting that he just wanted Jackson to answer his question.
“At some point you have to follow the rules,” Durbin shot back.
The focus on sentencing was part of a larger effort by the committee’s Republicans — several are potential presidential candidates — to characterize Jackson’s record, and her judicial philosophy, as too empathetic and soft on criminals who commit the worst offenses. It was also reflective of an emerging emphasis on crime in GOP midterm election campaigns.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told Jackson she seemed like “a very kind person” — but “there’s at least a level of empathy that enters into your treatment of a defendant that some could view as maybe beyond what some of us would be comfortable with, with respect to administering justice.”
The sustained focus on her record suggested that, contrary to Democratic hopes, Jackson’s confirmation vote in the full Senate is unlikely to garner much, if any, Republican support. Still, several Republicans acknowledged that she is likely to be on the court. Democrats can confirm her without any bipartisan support in the 50-50 Senate as Vice President Kamala Harris can cast the tiebreaking vote.
Jackson, backed by committee Democrats, said the Republicans were mischaracterizing her decisions. Asked if her rulings were endangering children, she told the committee on Tuesday, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
She said she bases sentences on many factors, not just federal guidelines. Sentencing is not a “numbers game,” she said, noting that there are no mandatory sentences for sex offenders and that there has been significant debate on the subject.
Some of the cases have given her nightmares, she said, and were “among the worst that I have seen.”
She reminded the committee that her brother and two uncles served as police officers, and that “crime and the effect on the community, and the need for law enforcement — those are not abstract concepts or political slogans to me.”
President Joe Biden chose Jackson in February, fulfilling a campaign pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. She would take the seat of Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced in January that he would retire this summer after 28 years.
Jackson would be the third Black justice, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and the sixth woman. Her confirmation would maintain the current 6-3 conservative majority on the court. She would also be the first former public defender on the court, and the first justice with experience representing indigent criminal defendants since Marshall.
Some of the most combative rounds of questioning during the hearings came from the potential GOP presidential candidates, including Cruz, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. All hit on issues that are popular with the GOP base, including attacks on critical race theory, the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions. Jackson said the idea doesn’t come up in her work as a judge, and it “wouldn’t be something I would rely on” if confirmed.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Jessica Gresko, Lisa Mascaro, Darlene Superville and Colleen Long in Washington and Aaron Morrison in New York contributed to this report.