Ketanji Brown Jackson faces Supreme Court confirmation hearings

Ketanji Brown Jackson faces Supreme Court confirmation hearings

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is sworn in prior to testifying during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 21, 2022.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Supreme Court hopeful Ketanji Brown Jackson defended her judicial career Monday as lawmakers weighed her nomination to become the first Black woman to join the top U.S. court.

“I have been a judge for nearly a decade now, and I take that responsibility and my duty to be independent very seriously,” Jackson said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“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,” the 51-year-old judge said.

Jackson’s remarks closed out the first of four days of hearings in the Senate, following hours of statements from the panel’s 22 members.

Democrats lauded Jackson, the first nominee of President Joe Biden, for her judicial experience, her temperament and the historic nature of her ascension toward the Supreme Court.

The committee’s Republicans, while generally offering some praise of Jackson’s character, raised an array of concerns about her past rulings and her judicial philosophy.

The hearings come as Jackson faces little resistance from a Senate Democratic caucus that can confirm her without GOP support.

Lawmakers will not question Jackson, who currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, until Tuesday.

She is expected to field a barrage of questions from Republicans on her judicial record and philosophy. Some GOP senators have already criticized Jackson’s stances on issues ranging from court packing to the criminal sentencing of defendants convicted of child-pornography charges.

“This is a momentous occasion and you have much to be proud of,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told Jackson in the hearing.

Durbin, who began the proceedings, also preemptively pushed back on criticism that Jackson will be a “rubber stamp” for the Biden administration.

“For these would-be critics, I have four words: Look at the record,” Durbin said. He also rebutted Republican accusations that Jackson is “soft on crime,” calling some of those charges “baseless.”

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) is flanked by committee members as he presides during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 21, 2022.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Republicans, meanwhile, suggested that the advocacy of Jackson’s candidacy by so-called dark money political groups undercut her candidacy.

GOP senators also revived complaints of how Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was treated by their Democratic counterparts during his confirmation hearings after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students in the 1980s.

One of the most direct lines of attack came from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who suggested Jackson had given too-lenient criminal sentences in some child-pornography cases she oversaw as a district court judge.

Durbin and other Democrats in response quoted a conservative columnist who had called Hawley’s argument “meritless to the point of demagoguery.”

Jackson on Monday afternoon appeared to tailor her remarks toward her conservative skeptics, who have long railed against what they see as the high court expanding its power and influence beyond the narrow bounds set under the law.

“I know that my role as a judge is a limited one, that the Constitution empowers me only to decide cases and controversies that are properly presented,” Jackson said. “And I know that my judicial role is further constrained by careful adherence to precedent.”

She also drew attention to her work as a public defender, a piece of her resume praised by Democrats who say Jackson’s experience will bring much-needed perspective to the Supreme Court. Jackson would become the first former public defender to serve on the top U.S. bench.

“Now, in preparing for these hearings you may have read some of my more than 570 written decisions, and you may have also noticed that my opinions tend to be on the long side,” she said.

“That is because I also believe in transparency, that people should know precisely what I think and the basis for my decision,” Jackson continued. “And all of my professional experiences, including my work as a public defender and as a trial judge, have instilled in me the importance of having each litigant know that the judge in their case has heard them, whether or hot their arguments prevail in court.”

Monday’s session at the Judiciary Committee comes a day after the Supreme Court disclosed that its longest serving justice, Clarence Thomas, had been hospitalized on Friday with an infection.

If confirmed, Jackson would succeed Justice Stephen Breyer, who is retiring. Her confirmation would replace one liberal justice with another, maintaining the court’s 6-3 conservative majority.

President Joe Biden nominated Jackson to the Supreme Court in February.

Jackson has served on the D.C. Circuit appeals court, the nation’s highest-profile appeals court, since last year. She won Senate confirmation with support from every Democrat and three Republicans.

To join the Supreme Court, Jackson will need at least 50 votes in the evenly split Senate. Vice President Kamala Harris holds a tie-breaking vote for her fellow Democrats and the two independents who routinely vote with the party.

No Democrats so far have indicated they will vote against Jackson.

— CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.

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