GOP White House hopefuls get Supreme Court spotlight
The Supreme Court fight is lending a spotlight to a group of Republicans viewed as harboring White House ambitions, injecting the potential for GOP jockeying into the judicial nomination.
The Republican shadow war could spill into public view next week when Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson appears for three days before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing on her nomination, where she’ll face two days of questions from senators on the panel. A fourth day will involve outside experts and witnesses.
“That usually doesn’t bode well,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the panel, when asked about having presidential hopefuls on the committee, adding that it becomes a “platform” for others.
“I can’t control what other people do. All I can do is try to control myself. That could be a factor, but in the end, I don’t expect it to change the result,” he added.
The Judiciary Committee has a handful of GOP senators seen as likely White House contenders if former President Trump backs down from his flirtation with running in 2024 or further down the line.
GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), who previously ran for president, Josh Hawley (Mo.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) are each on the committee. As part of the hearing, they’ll be able to provide both an opening statement, previewing their focus for the hearing, as well as go one-on-one with Jackson during a question-and-answer period.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who have been floated as having bigger political ambitions, are also on the Judiciary Committee.
The potential for fireworks comes as Republicans have pledged to keep the Supreme Court hearing “dignified” and civil, a dig at Democrats who largely opposed Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. Most, if not all, Republicans on the committee are expected to oppose Jackson’s nomination.
Democrats boycotted the Judiciary Committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination, though that didn’t prevent Republicans from moving forward with her. And the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh descended into vitriol after he faced sexual assault allegations, which he denied.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said that the presidential aspirations of some senators wouldn’t affect the overall tenor of the hearing.
“Not at all,” Grassley said about the potential impact. “We’re going to do what every Republican should do and every Democrat should do. We’re going to have a thorough and fair hearing, and we’re not going to get into the gutter like the Democrats did on Kavanaugh.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, added that the potential political jockeying was a fact of life for the panel.
“I live with that reality every time I convene the Senate Judiciary Committee — the aspirations of my colleagues,” Durbin said.
But Durbin added that he was encouraged by Republicans who have met with Jackson and “came away with a positive impression.”
“I’m encouraged by the fact that Sen. [Mitch] McConnell [Ky.] and other Republican leaders have said that they want to make sure that she’s treated with respect,” Durbin said.
It would hardly be the first time presidential politics intersected with a Supreme Court hearing.
In 2018, during Kavanaugh’s hearing, the panel included Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), who were each considered to be potential 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls.
Cornyn pointed back to Kavanaugh’s hearing, saying that it “seemed to have an impact on the way they approached the hearing.”
Harris, who was the then-vice presidential nominee, also took part in Barrett’s hearing, putting a spotlight on the questions she asked Barrett.
Jackson went before the Judiciary Committee last year for her appeals court nomination, giving a potential preview of how Republicans will approach next week’s hearing.
Cotton asked Jackson about if she had ever represented a Guantánamo Bay detainee and asked her if the case was assigned to her. Jackson said that it was.
He also submitted more than 20 follow-up questions, including a dive into Jackson’s work on the Sentencing Commission.
Cotton will meet with Jackson this week, while Hawley and Cruz met with her last week.
Cruz, in a tweet after his closed-door meeting with Jackson, vowed that he would “continue to scrutinize her record carefully to ensure that she, if confirmed, would hold firmly to the principles of the Constitution.”
Cruz also submitted more than 30 follow-up questions for Jackson as part of her hearing for her appeals court position, including asking her broadly about her judicial philosophy, if she supported expanding the Supreme Court, her views on free speech and if she believed Kavanaugh assaulted Christine Blasey Ford.
Hawley, meanwhile, pledged to use his time before the committee to dive into both specific positions including her previous work related to Guantánamo Bay detainees, but also broader questions about her judicial philosophy.
“I think the hearings will be very, very substantive,” Hawley said.
“Certainly, her record on criminal law as it relates to detainees … we’re going to need to get, I think, some more clarity on that,” Hawley added. “I mean, we visited about it for some time. Certainly, it’s something that I think that I and I imagine others will want to talk about.”