WASHINGTON–Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Senate confirmation hearings could get a lot more interesting Tuesday, as senators pepper her with questions about how she would approach a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.
Jackson, to judge on the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, sat quietly throughout much of the proceeding Monday as senators delivered opening statements. Those statements offered some clues about the questions Jackson is likely to receive today.
Republicans indicated they will press Jackson on the sentences she has handed down in a number of criminal cases she handled when she was a US District Court judge for nearly a decade. They’ll also nudge her to offer more insight into how she interprets the Constitution in cases where the document isn’t explicit.
Tuesday marks the first of two days of questioning. Senators will get 30 minutes each, in order of seniority. And then they’ll get a second round of questions on Wednesday.
Jackson defended her representation of Guantanamo Bay detained after the Sept. 11 attacks, making the case that public defenders sought to uphold the nation’s constitutional values that were under attack.
“We couldn’t let the terrorists win by changing who we were fundamentally, and what that meant was that the people who were accused by our government of having engaged in actions related to this, under our constitutional scheme, were entitled to representation – are entitled to be treated fairly,” she said. “That’s what makes our system the best in the world.”
She said that federal public defenders don’t pick their clients and describe the work as a service.
“That’s what you do as a federal public defender; you are standing up for the constitutional value of representation,” she said.
– She reads
Durbin is trying to preempt Republican criticism of the nominee by asking Jackson about some of the disputed aspects of her record, including her views on “court packing,” the handling of military detainees at Gitmo, her work as a public defender, and sentences on child pornography.
“CNN says (Josh) Hawley’s assessment of your record of ruling on child porn cases is wrong and unfair,” Durbin told Jackson at one point, referring to the Missouri Republican senator.
In prebuttal mode, Jackson avoided the charged “political” topic of adding justices to the high court – and said she based sentences of convicted pornographers based on the law and the circumstances. She described her work on Guantanamo Bay and as a public defender as “standing up for the constitutional value of representation.”
Despite Durbin’s effort, expect Republicans to raise these issues – and others – throughout the day.
Speaking for the first time about criticism that her sentences in child pornography cases consistently came in under US Sentencing Commission guidelines, Jackson told the committee that she took the crimes seriously and sought to “impose a sentence that is sufficient but not greater than necessary.”
Jackson noted that in addition to prison time, her sentences in the seven cases raised by Republicans often included years of supervised release and other factors, such as limiting the ability of defendants to use their computers.
“I am imposing all of those constraints because I understand how significant, how damaging, how horrible this crime is,” Jackson said.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has said that he intends to discuss some cases in detail later in the hearing.
– John Fritz
Durbin asked Jackson about her stance on making structural changes to the high court beyond its current nine seats, noting that Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett was asked a similar question during her hearings. Many progressives have pushed to add more seats to the conservative, majority-ruled court.
Jackson said she agreed with Barrett, who said she could not opine on the politically controversial issue because it’s inconsistent with a judicial role.
“My North Star is the consideration of the proper role of a judge in our constitutional scheme and in my view, judges should not be speaking in to political issues and certainly not a nominee for position on the Supreme Court,” Jackson said.
– Courtney Subramanian
Jackson’s parents and brother entered the hearing room after she made her entrance. Like yesterday, they are seated to Jackson’s right from her. Her husband flanks Ella’s Jackson’s left side, while “sherpa” former Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., Has the seat closest to her right of her.
Others in the audience include Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who was present for yesterday’s proceedings. Louisa Terrell, director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, is also in the room watching the questioning.
– Dylan Wells
In her most extensive explanation yet of her judicial philosophy, Jackson told senators that she has developed a methodology “to ensure that I am ruling impartially.”
“I am acutely aware that as a judge in our system I have limited power,” she said.
“I am trying in every case to stay in my lane.”
Jackson said she looks at “original documents” and precedents of the Supreme Court.
Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin, D-Ill., raised the issue as his first question, anticipating that others would continue to ask. Ella Jackson’s answer is unlikely to fully satisfy conservatives who would like a more detailed explanation of how she would approach interpreting the Constitution.
– John Fritz
Former Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., who was designated as Judge Jackson’s “sherpa” to guide her throughout the confirmation process, is in the hearing room. The proceedings are set to start at 9 am
Outside the hearing room, a short line of ticketed guests has formed, awaiting entry to the room.
– Dylan Wells
Senate Democrats are aiming to fast-track Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation process at nearly the pace of Amy Coney Barrett, who was seated less than a month after being nominated in 2020.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said he’d like to see her confirmed in an “expedited way” by April 8, when Congress leaves for a two-week Easter break.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the world,” he said. “I want to really focus on getting this to the finish line.”
– Courtney Subramanian and John Fritze
Judge Ketjani Brown Jackson on Monday thanked her support system and affirmed her commitment to neutral judgment in her opening remarks of her Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
Jackson said her parents taught her growing up that if she worked hard and believed in herself she could “do anything or be anything” she wanted to be, calling being born in America was the “first of my many blessings.” She said she is committed to deciding cases from a “neutral posture” and remaining transparent in her reasoning.
She also thanked God for her nomination and paid homage to her husband, children, high school debate coach and Justice Stephen Breyer, who she called a mentor.
– She reads
Today is the second day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and the first opportunity during the hearings for senators to question her.
All 22 committee members will have the chance to ask Jackson any questions they want, for 30 minutes each. The order of questions will be determined by seniority.
Members of the committee previewed some of the topics that may arise today.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., listed specific cases in which Jackson handed down sentences for defendants convicted on child pornography charges that were below sentencing guidelines. Jackson’s supporters and experts have noted sentences for those offenses are regularly below the guidelines, regardless of the judge involved.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he would press Jackson for more detail about her judicial philosophy and how she would approach the Constitution in situations in which the founding document is not clear.
– Dylan Wells
Former Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., who is helping guide Jackson through the confirmation process in a role known as a “sherpa,” told reporters that he feels the judge is ready to counter GOP criticism during questioning.
“I think there’s gonna be some very pointed questions about her record, and that’s what the senators are there for. I think she will be prepared,” Jones said.
He said that Jackson, not the Democratic members of the committee, is best positioned to respond to any attacks leveled by Republican senators.
“I think the best counter for some of those things is going to be Judge Jackson,” he said. “The senators are there to ask those probing questions. It’s going to be her job to give the answers.”
– Dylan Wells
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism