To read our previous coverage of Jackson’s background, click here.
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee began the formal process for considering President Biden’s nominee to the Supreme Court — Ketanji Brown Jackson. After opening statements on Monday, yesterday was the first round of questioning from the 22-member Senate panel, which should wrap up today. Tomorrow, the Committee will hear from a group of legal experts and then make a recommendation to the full Senate. So far, Democrats have lauded her historic nomination. Republicans have taken several issues with her record, suggesting she is “soft on crime” and questioning her stance on abortion.
Amid rising violent crimes in the United States, Republicans view the Democratic Party as “soft on crime” and will likely make it a central theme in the upcoming midterm elections. This criticism has extended to Jackson’s nomination primarily in two forms — questioning her handling of child sex predator cases and her defense of four Guantanamo detainees. Senators Josh Hawley (R-MO), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have been the most prominent Republicans to level the attack that she has been lenient in sentencing child sex offenders. Hawley has cited a series of cases involving child pornography or sexual abuse of a child in which he says Jackson issued lax sentences. Hawley cited one particular quote from United States v. Hawkins, a case about the distribution of six counts of child porn, which Jackson presided over. While prosecutors asked for a 24-month sentence, Jackson sentenced Hawkins to three months. Hawley cites Jackson as saying, “I don’t feel that it’s appropriate to increase the penalty on the basis of the number of images or prepubescent victims as the guidelines require. […] There’s no reason to think you are a pedophile. […] Sex offenders are truly shunned in our society.” Other Republicans seem less willing to press Jackson on the issue, believing it is a politically risky criticism.
Jackson pushed back on those accusations, saying, “As a mother and a judge who has had to deal with these cases, I was thinking that nothing could be further from the truth.” Several sentencing experts wrote a letter to the Committee in defense of Jackson, arguing that she is well within the mainstream approach for trial judges in these cases. Democrats on the Committee have lambasted the accusations as well, asserting that they “certainly challenge” Republicans’ commitment to a dignified and thorough examination of her record.
Jackson has also faced substantial criticism from the Republican side of the Committee for her time as a public defender. Public defenders are government-paid lawyers that a court appoints to defend someone that cannot afford private representation. Jackson served in such a role from 2005 to 2007, where she represented four Guantanamo detainees. Republicans have accused Jackson of defending terrorists during this time. She has countered those claims, saying that defenders do not pick their clients and are “standing up for the constitutional value of representation.” Further, they have expressed concern over several legal filings where Jackson argued for the release of three detainees, saying that their treatment at the facility violated federal law and amounted to torture. Jackson also equated this treatment to war crimes in some court filings, prompting Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to accuse her of characterizing former President George Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as “war criminals.” Chairman Durbin later clarified that the filing referred to the detainees’ treatment more broadly and did not disparage Bush or Rumsfeld.
Lastly, many Republicans have taken issue with Jackson’s stance on abortion. After Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) questioned Jackson on her views on Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Jackson responded that she believes the two cases are “settled law.” In 2018, Justice Brett Kavanaugh made statements to that same effect during his confirmation hearings. Roe and Casey are two Supreme Court cases that determined that pregnant women have a constitutional right to an abortion. The issue will surely spark further questions, as the Court will hear a case challenging a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks.
As the hearings move on, expect Republicans to continue challenging Jackson on these points. Also, they will likely press her on other hot topics like adding justices to the Supreme Court, critical race theory, and an upcoming affirmative action case against Harvard, where Jackson is an alumnus and served on the Board of Overseers. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has conceded that, barring some explosive revelation, the Senate will likely confirm Jackson to the Supreme Court. Democrats hope to do so before Congress leaves for its Easter recess on April 11.