By James Langford | March 21, 2022 | News & Features
Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson readily admits that her more than more than 570 written decisions tend to run long, something she’s sure that the senators holding her confirmation hearing this week have noticed.
There’s a good reason, Jackson said Monday, the first of four days of grilling by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The first Black woman to be nominated to the nation’s highest court, she believes in transparency, in ensuring that people know the basis for decisions she made as a judge on both the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“All of my professional experiences, including my work as a public defender and a trial judge, have instilled in me the importance of having each litigant in a case know that a judge has heard them,” Jackson said, “whether or not their arguments have prevailed in court.”
While Jackson spent most of her time thanking supporters including her parents, who grew up during the era of racial segregation and wanted something better for their daughter, lawmakers used as much of theirs on decades-long partisan grudges as on the nominee's qualifications.
GOP members, for instance, accused Democrats of engaging in the “politics of personal destruction,” as Sen. Mike Lee of Utah put it.
They recalled instances as disparate as President Ronald Reagan’s failed nomination of Robert Bork in the late 1980s - after a confirmation hearing led by Joe Biden, who was then chairman of the Judiciary Committee and is now president - and the 2018 hearings for current Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which focused on claims of sexual misconduct.
GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee ticked off a virtual hit list of Republican talking points, from accusations that the Supreme Court has appropriated duties the Constitution gave to Congress to a diatribe on transgender rights.
Democrats, still chafing from former GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s machinations that allowed former President Donald Trump to appoint three justices, emphasized Jackson’s accomplished resume while taking veiled and not-so-veiled shots at the other party’s tactics.
“The unpleasant fact is that the present court is the court that dark money built,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat. "Anonymous donations funded the Federalist Society while it housed the selection turnstile run by the dark-money donors."
Trump, in fact, promised conservative outlet Breitbart in 2016 that all his judicial nominees would be picked by the Federalist Society, a self-described conservative and libertarian group that says it doesn’t “sponsor or endorse nominees” for public service.
Jackson’s nomination process offered a sharp contrast, he argued, with Biden undertaking a “thorough and independent review” of her record.
Nonetheless, “we have already seen dark-money groups use dark money to run ads charging that dark money swayed this selection,” Whitehouse said. “We are hearing that again today, ironic when hundreds of millions of dollars of right-wing dark money built the current court majority.”
Indeed, McConnell himself suggested such funds were used to secure Jackson’s nomination shortly after Biden announced it.
'Should have happened years ago'
A number of Republicans also used language echoing that of the Federalist Society to argue that justices should limit themselves to determining what the law is, not what it should be, and that they should adhere to largely unspecified “traditional values.”
Parents “are very concerned about the progressive agenda being pushed in some of our schools,” Blackburn said.
“Biological males are being allowed to steal opportunities from female athletes in the name of progressivism,” she added, and many of her constituents fear more vaccine and mask mandates due to COVID-19 or future pandemics.
Blackburn's party has largely opposed requiring masks - believed to help prevent infection from a virus that forced the shutdown of much of the U.S. economy and killed hundreds of thousands of Americans - as well as mandates that people be inoculated against the disease before returning to public settings including classrooms.
“Americans need a Supreme Court justice who will protect our children and will defend parents’ constitutional right to decide what is best for their own children,” she said, implying that Jackson would not do so, then telling the jurist that her story is an example of the American dream being fulfilled.
“You are able to sit here today because you were reared and built your career in a free country whose laws protect equal justice and opportunity for all,” Blackburn said, moments after touching on critical race theory, an academic examination of racism in societal structures that the GOP has condemned.
Democrats and civil rights advocates point to the historic nature of Jackson’s nomination as proof that the U.S. continues to struggle with racial inequality and systemic discrimination.
“The appointment of a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, let’s be very blunt, should have happened years ago,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told Jackson.
“It means that your service will make the court look more like America,” he added. “Hopefully, too, it will make the court think more like America. We will never know in detail all of the challenges and obstacles that you’ve overcome to be here today, but we know for sure that you will bring an important perspective, in fact a unique perspective, to a court that deeply needs it.”