Cruz presses Jackson on critical race theory in tense questioning
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) repeatedly pressed Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, about critical race theory and whether it might influence her work as a justice during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
During the most dramatic part of the questioning, Cruz singled out a book titled “Antiracist Baby,” which argues that babies are taught to be racist or anti-racist and there is no neutrality.
The Texas senator said the book was taught to four- to seven-year-olds at Washington’s Georgetown Day School, where Jackson serves as a member of the board of trustees.
While showing blown-up pages of the book’s illustrations on poster-boards behind him, Cruz, a former GOP presidential candidate who may run again in 2024, pressed Jackson’s association with Georgetown Day School, which he said has a curriculum that is “filled to overflowing with critical race theory.”
He said the “stunning” book was being taught at the school and asked Jackson if she agreed “with this book that’s being taught to kids that baby are racist?”
Jackson, who had been taking notes as Cruz talked, took a long pause before answering as Cruz took a drink from a plastic soda bottle on the split-screen shown on cable television.
“Senator,” said Jackson, “I do not believe that any child should be made to feel as though they are racist or though they are not valued or though they are less than their victims, that they are oppressors. I don’t believe in any of that.”
Jackson explained that Georgetown Day School has a “special history” as a private school that was founded by three White families and three Black families at time when racial segregation was mandated by law in the nation’s capital.
She said equality and justice are “at the core” of the school’s mission.
She said she didn’t know whether critical race theory is taught at Georgetown Day School because the board does not control the curriculum or focus on it.
The Georgetown Day School was just part of Cruz’s focus on critical race theory.
Cruz also asked Jackson about her views of The New York Times’s controversial 1619 Project, which recast the nation’s founding as the year when enslaved Africans first arrived in the colonies.
He asked whether she agreed with New York Times Magazine staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones that one of the primary reasons why colonists declared independence from Britain was to preserve the institution of slavery.
Jackson responded that this revisionist theory of history is “provocative” and “not something that I’ve studied” and “it doesn’t come up in my work.”
She said she discussed the 1619 Project at the University of Michigan when she was asked by the school to speak on Martin Luther King Jr. Day because it was a topic of intellectual debate familiar to the students.
Cruz then asked whether she was aware that the 1619 Project had been criticized by leading academics such as Gordon Wood of Brown University and James McPherson of Princeton University.
“I was not,” she responded.
Cruz asked Jackson to explain to the nearly all-white Judiciary Committee “in your understanding, what does critical race theory mean?” There is one Black member of the panel, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who is one of three Black members of the Senate overall.
She defined it as “an academic theory about the ways in which race interacts with various institutions.”
“It doesn’t come up in my work as a judge. It’s never something that I studied or relied on and it wouldn’t be something I would rely on if I was on the Supreme Court,” she said.
The White House said Cruz should have let go of this line of questioning after his first couple stabs at the question.
“And has never impacted her work as a judge. Asked and answered. Next,” tweeted White House advisor Ben LaBolt.
But Cruz kept on going, noting that critical race theory originated from academic critical studies programs and, particularly, from critical legal studies professors at Harvard Law School, where both he and Jackson studied, “who are explicitly Marxist.”
“Critical race theory frames all of society as a fundamental and intractable battle between the races,” Cruz expounded. “It views every conflict as a racial conflict.
“You think that’s an accurate way of viewing society?” he asked.
Jackson replied: “Senator, I don’t believe so. But I’ve never studied critical race theory and I’ve never used it. It doesn’t come up in the work that I do as a judge.”
Cruz said he found that “a curious statement” because she delivered a speech at the University of Chicago in April 2015 in which she said legal work on sentencing is interesting because it “melds together various types of law” and critical race theory.
“You described in a speech to a law school what you were doing as critical race theory,” he said. “So I guess I would ask, what did you mean by that when you gave that speech?”
Jackson said that the quote Cruz displayed on a large orange placard in the hearing room “was about sentencing policy” and not about her own sentencing decisions.
Cruz interjected by pointing out that she was the vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and asked again “what did you mean by what you were doing with critical race theory?”
She said the quote Cruz picked out didn’t show the entire “laundry list” of academic disciplines that she said relate to sentencing policy.