Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson vows to deliver equal justice

Washington DC - Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s historic nominee to the US Supreme Court, promised Monday that if confirmed, she would seek to make the words "equal justice under law" a reality for all Americans.

Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is sworn-in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is sworn-in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

She called herself an independent jurist who follows the law and pledged to "defend the Constitution and the grand experiment of American democracy that has endured over these past 246 years."

Backed by her family and a roomful of supporters, she spoke at the end of the first day of her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose Democrats said they were filled with hope by the nomination of the first Black woman for the post of Supreme Court justice.

"This is a day of joy," said Democrat Senator Cory Booker. "This has never happened before. It shows the world the promise of a true democracy."

After describing himself as the "proud son of immigrants from Mexico," Democrat Senator Alex Padilla said "the men who wrote our founding documents never imagined you could be here." He added that Jackson’s "appearance here begins a new chapter in American history."

The Republicans for the most part avoided attacking her directly, but instead faulted Democrats for their harsh treatment of past GOP nominees.

Senator Charles Grassley said the Republicans "won’t turn this into a spectacle. We will ask tough questions."

Senator Lindsey Graham repeated his disappointment that Biden did not select US District Judge J. Michelle Childs from his home state of South Carolina, the candidate Graham said he would have preferred.

The committee is evenly split between 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans, but the tenor of Monday’s hearing suggested her confirmation will not turn into a fierce partisan fight akin to the 2018 battle over now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Republicans pick a familiar line of attack

Jackson wipes a tear from her eye as she is introduced.
Jackson wipes a tear from her eye as she is introduced.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Jackson’s confirmation would not change the ideological balance on the Supreme Court. She would replace liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, but conservatives would maintain a 6-3 majority.

Jackson’s friends and supporters described her as smart, open-minded and collegial, and not a partisan ideologue.

Nonetheless, several Republicans served notice that they planned to grill her on Tuesday, when the hearings resume with questioning.

Senators Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, and Marsha Blackburn all suggested Jackson may be soft on crime.

Last week, Hawley said he saw an "alarming pattern" in which Jackson favored lighter prison terms for those convicted of possessing child pornography.

The proper level of punishment for such defendants has been much debated, and the issue came before the US Sentencing Commission, where Jackson served for multiple years. On Monday, Hawley cited a series of cases where Jackson sentenced a pornography defendant to a lesser prison term than the one recommended by prosecutors.

The White House rejected Hawley’s charges as "disinformation." And Jackson’s supporters noted that two of her uncles and her brother worked as police officers, and her nomination was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.

Senator Richard Durbin, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said Republicans frequently raised a "soft on crime" complaint about Democratic nominees, regardless of their record.

"It is a campaign theme for 2022, and it’s played out every time the Judiciary Committee meets considering any nominee," Durbin said. "I don’t think there’s any credibility to it."

A different perspective

Jackson delivering her opening remarks during the hearing.
Jackson delivering her opening remarks during the hearing.  © IMAGO / UPI Photo

Since graduating from Harvard Law School in 1996, Ketanji Brown Jackson has worked steadily as a lawyer. She clerked for three judges, including at the Supreme Court, worked briefly at four law firms, served eight years as a US district judge and one year as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

But the most cited aspect of her legal career is the two years she spent in the federal public defender’s office in Washington starting in 2005. Attorneys in the office represent people charged with federal offenses, including many of those charged with assault at the Capitol during the January 6 insurrection last year.

Progressives say her time in that office means she would bring a different perspective to the high court. Since Justice Thurgood Marshall retired in 1991, the court has not had a justice who had represented criminal defendants.

In her opening statement, Jackson cited her broad legal experience, including serving as a law clerk to Breyer.

"I have been a judge for nearly a decade now, and I take that responsibility and my duty to be independent very seriously," she said. "I decide cases from a neutral posture. I evaluate the facts, and I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me, without fear or favor, consistent with my judicial oath."

She also lauded Breyer as a role model. He "exemplifies what it means to be a Supreme Court justice of the highest level of skill and integrity, civility and grace. It is extremely humbling to be considered for Justice Breyer’s seat, and I know that I could never fill his shoes. But if confirmed, I would hope to carry on his spirit."

The committee has not said when it will vote on Jackson’s nomination.

If it divides entirely along partisan lines, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer can introduce a motion to have her nomination sent to the Senate floor.

Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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