LIVE COVERAGE: Senate begins confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday will begin its confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, who if confirmed would be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
The confirmation hearing on Monday for Jackson, 51, is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Jackson is President Biden’s first nominee to serve on the high court.
Jackson is broadly expected to win confirmation. Democrats have enough votes on their side to confirm her with no GOP support, though a few Republicans could cross party lines to support her.
The Hill will be providing full coverage of the day’s hearing below.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has gaveled out its first day of Jackson’s Supreme Court hearing.
The hearing, which started at 11 a.m., wrapped at approximately the 3:37 p.m.
The committee will reconvene Tuesday at 9 a.m., when the senators will start two days of questions.
Senators will each get 30 minutes to question Jackson during a first round of questions on Tuesday. A second round of questions, expected to happen on Wednesday, will last 20 minutes.
— Jordain Carney
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in her statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the opening day of her confirmation hearing Monday cited retiring Justice Stephen Breyer as her judicial model, saying that if confirmed she would “hope to carry on his spirit.”
Jackson once clerked for Breyer and would likely take his place among the three-member liberal wing on the 6-3 conservative majority alongside Sonia Sotomayor, 67, and Elena Kagan, 61.
At 51, Jackson would bring youth; diversity, as the nation’s first Black female Supreme Court justice; and likely a more liberal approach than the 83-year-old Breyer, known for his judicial modesty and pragmatism.
“Justice Breyer not only gave me the greatest job that any young lawyer could ever hope to have, but he also exemplifies what it means to be a Supreme Court Justice of the highest level of skill and integrity, civility, and grace,” Jackson said. “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.”
— John Kruzel
Judge Thomas Griffith, who introduced Jackson at the Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Monday, warned about autocrats around the world and in the U.S. while giving his endorsement of Jackson.
“The rule of law is a fragile possibility in the best of times. Today, it is literally under attack in Ukraine and is threatened around the world and in our own country by autocrats and their sympathizers who give lip service to the rule of law but then work to undermine it at every turn,” Griffith said.
Griffith, a former D.C. circuit court judge, cited a principal that the late Justice Antonin Scalia taught about impartiality.
“An indispensable feature of the republic the Constitution created is an independent judiciary of judges who have taken an oath, not to a president or a party but to the American people and to God, that they will be impartial,” Griffith said.
Jackson has “demonstrated her unwavering commitment to that oath,” he added.
Griffin previously served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit before retiring in 2020. He was first nominated by President George W. Bush to serve on the D.C. Circuit in 2004.
Griffith acknowledged that he was appointed by a Republican president and discussed that bipartisan support for nominees to the Supreme Court used to be regular order, noting that Scalia was confirmed in a 98-0 vote and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed in a 96-3 vote.
“There should be nothing unusual about my support for a highly qualified nominee,” Griffith said.
— Alex Gangitano
President Biden called Jackson on Sunday evening, the night before her confirmation hearing kicked off, to wish her luck.
“He has been requesting regular updates from member of the team on how the hearing is going,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “He also called her last night to wish her good luck this week at the hearings.”
Psaki added that Biden was thankful to Judge Thomas Griffith and professor Lisa Fairfax, who will be introducing Jackson before her opening statement later on Monday.
— Alex Gangitano
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a member of the Judiciary Committee and one of the Senate’s three Black senators, touted Jackson’s historic nomination to the Supreme Court.
Jackson, if she’s confirmed, would be the first Black woman justice and the first former public defender
“Let me just acknowledge the fact that this is not normal. It’s never happened before,” Booker said about Jackson’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee as a Supreme Court nominee.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am. Today we should rejoice,” he added.
In addition to being the first Black female justice, if she’s confirmed, Booker also pointed to her previous work as a public defender saying, “that too is unprecedented.”
Biden and Senate Democrats have tried to diversify the federal judiciary, not just along lines of race, religion or sexual orientation, but also professional diversity.
“We are opening the doors to diverse talent … in ways that we’ve never seen before,” Booker said of that work.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said that he will raise Jackson’s rulings in cases related to child pornography during the committee’s two days of questions.
“I think there’s a lot to talk about there and I look forward to talking about it,” Hawley said.
Hawley first raised the issue during a string of tweets last week.
“I’ve been researching the record of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, reading her opinions, articles, interviews & speeches. I’ve noticed an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children,” Hawley wrote as part of the tweet thread.
Hawley on Monday pointed to cases that he plans to ask Jackson about and said that he was raising the issue in advance because he didn’t want to “spring them” on her.
“I think it’s important that we hear from Jackson and we’ll have a chance to,” Hawley said.
“I’m not interested in trying to play gotcha. I’m interested in her answers,” he added.
Hawley, who is viewed as having presidential ambitions, isn’t expected to be the only GOP senator to raise the issue during the hearings
The line of attack has sparked fierce pushback from both Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and the White House.
“Judge Jackson is a proud mother of two whose nomination has been endorsed by leading law enforcement organizations, conservative judges, and survivors of crime. This is toxic and weakly presented misinformation that relies on taking cherry-picked elements of her record out of context — and it buckles under the lightest scrutiny,” Andrew Bates, a spokesperson for the White House, said last week.
Bates added that in an “overwhelming majority of her cases involving child sex crimes, the sentences Judge Jackson imposed were consistent with or above what the government or U.S. Probation recommended.”
— Jordain Carney
Senate Democrats emphasized that Jackson’s background as a public defender, which would be a unique resume item among the justices, would give her a distinctive perspective on how the law affects those in marginalized positions.
“You will be the first public defender on the court,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “You understand our justice system uniquely through the eyes of people who couldn’t afford a lawyer.”
Some court watchers believe that although Jackson’s addition wouldn’t fundamentally change the ideological balance on the 6-3 conservative-majority court, her unique voice and background, including her service as a public defender, would make her an inspiring and forceful presence on the bench.
Critics have suggested that Jackson’s two years on the defense bar and tenure on the U.S. Sentencing Commission could indicate that she would be “soft on crime.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) pushed back on that notion.
“I am a former prosecutor. Confidence in my prosecution of a case was strongest when I knew the defendant had the best representation,” Leahy said. “When both sides and the presiding judge have a real grasp of our criminal justice system, that is when justice is most likely to be done. Judge Jackson’s background here is an asset to the Court, not a liability.”
— John Kruzel
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) remarked that Jackson’s confirmation hearings are occurring during Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, noting that it reminds Americans that democracy can never be taken for granted.
“Your confirmation hearing comes at a moment in our history when the people of this country are once again seeing, this time in Ukraine, that democracy can never be taken for granted. Eternal vigilance, it’s been said, is the price of liberty,” Klobuchar said in her opening statement.
The senator recently visited the Polish border with Ukraine and met with refugees who have fled the war. She said this moment is an opportunity to recognize that, in the U.S., what unites us is much bigger than what divides us.
“As we move forward with these hearings, let us be grounded in the central role of the court and the constitution in our democracy of what it means to our system of government that we can never take for granted and how we must always be vigilant that it is serving the people,” Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar also honored the legacy of retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, who is a mentor of Jackson, saying he “approached cases with a pragmatic view of the law.”
— Alex Gangitano
President Biden on Monday urged senators to confirm Jackson, offering support for his Supreme Court nominee on the first day of her Senate confirmation hearings.
“Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a brilliant legal mind with the utmost character and integrity. She deserves to be confirmed as the next Justice of the Supreme Court,” Biden said in a statement.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that White House officials would be closely watching the hearings.
“I’m sure we’ll be responding to the inevitable doses of misinformation that travel out as well,” Psaki said.
The White House has also hit back at Republicans for criticizing Jackson’s rulings on multiple child pornography cases.
Biden is in Washington for the first two days of Jackson’s confirmation hearing before he travels to Europe on Wednesday to attend summits with NATO and the European Council.
— Alex Gangitano
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) fumed over progressive criticism of J. Michelle Childs, a district court nominee who was also a Supreme Court contender and accused Democrats of holding a double standard against GOP nominees.
“The attacks from the left against Judge Childs was really pretty vicious, to be honest with you,” Graham said.
Graham added that he believed there was a “wholesale effort” to take her out of the running for the Supreme Court seat.
— Jordain Carney
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said the merit-based process that led to Jackson’s nomination “stands in sharp contrast” to Republicans’ approach of selecting judges who have been “groomed in partisan petri dishes.”
Whitehouse is an outspoken critic of the Federalist Society and other outside conservative groups that he has accused of holding undue sway over the judicial selection process on the right through dark money spending and by acting as a kind of ideological proving ground.
“Judge Jackson will be an exemplary justice both because of the qualities that she possesses, and because she did not undergo a secret pre-selection process to get here,” Whitehouse said. “She is before us on the basis of her own merit, not on the recommendation of a secretive right-wing donor operation, hiding behind anonymous multimillion-dollar donations, and aimed at capturing the United States Supreme Court, as if it were some 19th-century railroad commission.”
Whitehouse has depicted the 6-3 conservative majority court’s deteriorating standing with the public as resulting in large part from a pattern of politically charged decisions that have fit neatly with the interests of well-heeled Republican donors.
“The unpleasant fact is that the present Court is The Court That Dark Money Built,” Whitehouse said. “Anonymous donations funded the Federalist Society while it housed the selection turnstile run by the dark money donors.
“Anonymous money funded the dark money group down the same hallway as the Federalist Society that ran dark-money political campaigns for the selected Justices,” he continued. “And because of secrecy, Americans are denied any real understanding of the overlap of all that dark money with the political dark money funding the Republican Party — which could well explain the wreckage of Senate norms, rules and procedures that accompanied the confirmation process of recent nominees.”
— John Kruzel
Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, vowed a “thorough” review of Jackson’s record while stressing the need for a respectful four-day hearing.
“We will conduct a thorough, exhaustive examination of Judge Jackson’s record and views. We won’t try to turn this into a spectacle based on alleged process fouls,” Grassley said in his opening remarks, promising to “ask tough questions about Judge Jackson’s judicial philosophy.”
Republicans have raised the issue of Jackson’s record on sex-related cases, including child porn offenders, and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) will raise it during her opening statement on Monday.
Grassley said he expects Republicans to focus on “the nominee’s view of the law, judicial philosophy and view on the role of a judge” and if she “is committed to the Constitution as originally understood.”
— Alex Gangitano
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, kicked off the four-day hearing, touting the historic nature of Jackson’s nomination. Jackson, if she’s confirmed, will be the first Black female justice and the court’s first previous public defender.
“The reality is that the court’s members in one respect have never really reflected the nation they served,” Durbin said.
Durbin added that Jackson’s nomination gives “inspiration to millions of Americans who see themselves in you.”
“Today is a proud day for America,” Durbin said.
Durbin also tried to address some of the likely GOP line of attacks, saying that Jackson wouldn’t be a “rubber stamp” for Biden. He also said claims that Jackson is “soft on crime” were “baseless” and “unfair” getting ahead of what is likely to be a key GOP narrative throughout the four-day hearing.
Though Jackson’s nomination has been low-key so far, the hearing is expected to include fireworks with several GOP senators on the panel viewed as having presidential ambitions.
Durbin took a veiled hit at those senators as he started the hearing.
“I also ask the members of the committee … consider how history will judge each senator,” he said.
— Jordain Carney
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) on Monday will raise sex-related cases, including child porn offenders, as she gives her opening statement during the four-day Supreme Court hearings.
Blackburn’s focus on the issue comes after Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) first raised the line of attack during a series of tweets last week, indicating that it could become a focus for GOP senators.
“You also have a consistent pattern of giving child-porn offenders light sentences. On average, you sentence child-porn defendants to over five years below the minimum sentence recommended by the Sentencing Guidelines,” Blackburn will say, according to excerpts from her office.
The criticism has sparked fierce backlash from both the White House and Democrats on the committee.
In response to Hawley last week, Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the White House, said that the “toxic and weakly-presented misinformation … relies on taking cherry-picked elements of her record out of context — and it buckles under the lightest scrutiny.”
“In the overwhelming majority of her cases involving child sex crimes, the sentences Judge Jackson imposed were consistent with or above what the government or U.S. Probation recommended,” Bates added.
In addition the sex-related crimes, Blackburn indicated that she would bring up mask mandates and portray Jackson as soft on crime, which is expected to be a key GOP line of questioning.
— Jordain Carney
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