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Confirmation hearings begin for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson

Democrats have touted President Joe Biden‘s pick as a qualified, “historic” nominee, while Republicans have criticized her record on crime and the support she holds from left-wing groups.

“It’s going to be an historic moment on Monday, as Judge Jackson appears before the committee,” Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said on the Senate floor last week. “Her qualifications are exceptional. In every role she’s held, she has earned a reputation for thoughtfulness, evenhandedness and collegiality.”

Jackson, 51, sits on DC’s federal appellate court and had been considered the front-runner for the vacancy since Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement. Jackson worked as a clerk for Breyer, a federal public defender, an attorney in private practice, a federal district court judge and a member of the US Sentencing Commission.

At the hearing Monday, Jackson and the senators will make their opening statements establishing the arguments for and against her confirmation. Jackson will be introduced by Judge Thomas Griffith, formerly of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Lisa Fairfax, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. Jackson will answer questions from the members on Tuesday and Wednesday, and witnesses will testify on Thursday. Democrats hope to confirm Jackson by early April.

No Democratic senators have signaled they will oppose Jackson, and some Republicans have expressed openness to supporting her. In the 50-50 Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris could break a tied vote and confirm Jackson to the Supreme Court.

Many Republican senators are expected to oppose the nomination and have tried to portray Jackson as weak on crime, which Democrats have refuted since her nomination. When Biden gave a speech announcing his pick in February, he made sure to note that Jackson came from “a family of law enforcement, with her brother and uncles having served as police officers.”

Some Republican senators have indicated that they will press Jackson for representing detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

“If somebody is assigned a job to do as a young lawyer, you don’t get to pick and choose your clients,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn told CNN. “But if you’re volunteering for it, because you’re a true believer, that’s a little different.”

Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley has raised concerns about Jackson’s record on sentencing in child pornography cases. Hawley said on Twitter last week that there is “an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children.”

The White House and Senate Democrats have pushed back on Hawley’s attack, noting that Jackson has the support of law enforcement groups, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police, and dozens of former state attorneys general. They noted she has already been confirmed by the Senate three times.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Jackson imposed sentences “consistent with or above” what was recommended in the “vast majority of cases involving sex crimes.”

“In the vast majority of cases involving child sex crimes, the sentences Judge Jackson imposed were consistent with or above what the government or US probation recommended,” Psaki said last week.

A CNN review of the material in question shows that Jackson has mostly followed the common judicial sentencing practices in these kinds of cases and that Hawley took some of her comments out of context by suggesting they were opinions, rather than follow-up questions to subject-matter experts.
Confirmation hearings to spotlight rightward trajectory of America's highest court

There are other matters Republicans may probe.

During Jackson’s confirmation hearings last year, some Senate Republicans focused on a 2019 case she heard between the House Judiciary Committee, which was looking into President Donald Trump‘s possible obstruction of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and former White House counsel Don McGahn. Ongoing cases involving Trump and the powers of government could land before her on the Supreme Court, including disputes over whether Congress can access Trump’s financial records and whether Trump could be held accountable by private litigants for the January 6, 2021, insurrection.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, challenged Jackson’s declaration that “presidents are not kings” and suggested she was engaged in a kind of hyperbole.

And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has pushed for Jackson to publicly oppose efforts to expand the court, which activists on the left have called for since McConnell and Senate Republicans blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016 and then expanded, under Trump, the high court’s conservative majority from 5-4 to 6-3. Jackson’s nomination to replace another liberal will not change the ideological balance of the court.

“This is about the institution of the Supreme Court,” McConnell told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt. “But she won’t respond. … The liberal groups that are so excited about her nomination are the very ones that have been calling for packing the court or term limits on the court.”

Still, even those who may oppose Jackson expect the hearings this week to be less contentious than those in the Trump era, which altered the balance of the court and, in the case of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, centered on allegations of sexual assault.

“I expect we will see a thorough examination of her record, of her jurisprudence,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told CNN. “What we will not see is the kind of political circus that we saw from Democrats, particularly with Justice Kavanaugh, where they engaged in personal smears. They went into the gutter.”

“I’m confident Republicans are not going to respond in kind,” he added.

Jackson may receive some votes from Republicans. Last year, she received three — from Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — confirming her to serve on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Graham had preferred for Biden to choose Judge J. Michelle Childs from his home state and later criticized the President for picking another Ivy League-educated nominee, even though Graham himself has supported conservative judges for the Supreme Court from those elite institutions. Jackson went to a public high school in Miami before earning both her undergraduate degree and law degree at Harvard University.

Murkowski has said that her previous support of Jackson to be a judge does not signal how she would vote for Jackson to be a justice.

But Collins has praised Jackson’s credentials and experience as “impressive.” The Maine Republican said she would not make her decision until after her hearings before the Judiciary Committee.

CNN’s Joan Biskupic and Tierney Sneed contributed to this report.


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