United States Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson returned to the Senate for a third day of hearings on Wednesday as Republicans tried to paint her as soft on crime and Democrats heralded her historic nomination to be the first Black woman on the high court.
“America is ready for the Supreme Court glass ceiling to shatter,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, as Jackson’s second and last day answering senators’ questions began.
In Tuesday’s marathon hearing, Republicans aggressively questioned her on the sentences she has handed down to sex offenders in her nine years as a federal judge, her advocacy on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, her thoughts on critical race theory and her religious views. At one point, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas read from children’s books that he said are taught at her teenage daughter’s school.
Several Republican senators questioned Jackson on her child pornography sentences, arguing they were lighter than federal guidelines recommend. She said she based the sentences on many factors, not just the guidelines, and said some of the cases had given her nightmares.
Could her rulings have endangered children? “As a mother and a judge,” she said, “nothing could be further from the truth.”
In what Durbin described as “a trial by ordeal”, Jackson spent her first day of hearings answering Republican concerns and highlighting her empathetic style on the bench. The committee’s Republicans, several of whom have their eyes on the presidency, tried to brand her – and Democrats in general – as soft on crime, an emerging Republican theme in upcoming election campaigns.
Jackson told 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”.
Wednesday’s hearing is the second day of questioning, and the third day of hearings, after Jackson and the 22 members of the panel gave opening statements on Monday. On Thursday, the committee will hear from legal experts before an eventual vote to move her nomination to the Senate floor.
President Joe Biden chose Jackson in February, fulfilling a campaign pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court for the first time in US history. She would take the seat of Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced in January that he will retire after 28 years on the court. Jackson would be the third Black justice, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and the sixth woman to join the court.
Barring unexpected developments, Democrats who control the Senate hope to wrap up Jackson’s confirmation before mid-April, although Breyer is not leaving until the court’s present session ends in June or July.
Jackson said the potential to be the first Black woman on the court is “extremely meaningful” and that she had received many letters from young girls. Her nomination also “supports public confidence in the judiciary”, Jackson said.
Democrats have been full of praise for Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, noting that she would not only be the first Black woman, but also the first public defender on the court, and the first with experience representing indigent criminal defendants since Marshall.
Republicans questioned that experience, focusing on work she did roughly 15 years ago representing detainees at US military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Jackson said public defenders do not choose their clients and are “standing up for the constitutional value of representation”. She said she continued to represent one client in private practice because her firm was assigned his case.
Senator Cruz questioned Jackson on her sentences for child pornographers, at one point bringing out a large poster board and circling prison sentences he found to be too light.
In most of those cases, prosecutors or others representing the US Department of Justice generally argued for sentences that were lighter than those recommended by federal guidelines.
Jackson defended her decisions by saying she considers not only sentencing guidelines but also the stories of the victims, the nature of the offenses and the defendants’ histories.
“A judge is not playing a numbers game,” she said. “A judge is looking at all of these different factors.”