Graham ramps up tension with Jackson: ‘I think you’re doing it wrong’

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
Greg Nash

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) sparked a lengthy and heated exchange with Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson that garnered grumblings from members of the audience and pushback from multiple Democrats on the committee.

Graham, who was one of the three GOP senators who supported Jackson last year for her influential appeals court seat, questioned her on Wednesday about her sentencing in child pornography cases — a key line of attack for Republicans on the committee.

“I think you’re doing it wrong. And every judge who is doing what you’re doing is making it easier for children to be exploited,” Graham told Jackson.

Graham and Jackson had a lengthy back-and-forth over the use of computers in child pornography cases and the number of photos downloaded and exchanged by perpetrators. Graham appeared concerned that Jackson, as a district judge, wouldn’t apply an enhanced sentence if a computer was used.

“The reason she’s always below the recommendation, I think, is because she doesn’t use the enhancements available to her … and I think that’s a big mistake, judge,” Graham said.

Graham also tangled with Jackson over her handling of an immigration case accusing her of “judicial activism.” At one point Graham stood up from his seat to read from a poster board print out he had next to him of the immigration law. 

“You reached a conclusion because you disagreed with the Trump administration,” he said to Jackson.

At multiple points, Graham interrupted Jackson as she was responding to his questions, sparking frustration from other members of the committee.

“Did you watch the Kavanaugh hearings?” Graham asked Jackson.

When Jackson said she had not and added that she did not have a comment on Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hearing in which he was grilled about accusations of sexual assault, Graham interrupted.

“What did you think about the Kavanaugh hearing?” Graham asked.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chairman of the committee, who was visibly frustrated, could be overheard telling Graham: “Would you let her answer?”

When Durbin tried to note that Graham had gone over his allotted 20 minutes, the Republican senator appeared frustrated, saying that “she filibustered every question I had.”

Durbin also stepped in to say that he was going to give Jackson the chance to respond to Graham on his questions related to her sentencing in child porn cases. Graham interjected: “Finally.”

The tense exchanges come after Graham used his speaking time during the first three days of the hearings to describe GOP grievances over the treatment of previous Republican court nominees, including Kavanaugh and Bush-era nominees. Graham accused Democrats of having a double standard.

Kavanaugh’s 2018 nomination was thrown into chaos after decades-old sexual assault allegations, which he denied, surfaced. Graham also pointed to Democrats’ treatment of Janice Rogers Brown, a Bush-era nominee, whose Circuit Court nomination was the subject of a lengthy Senate fight. 

“You had nothing to do with that … I just want to remind you there was another woman of color … that did not meet the same fate,” Graham said, contrasting the treatment of Jackson with the treatment of GOP nominees.

“We’re not going to live in America like that any longer,” Graham added.

Graham hasn’t yet said how he will vote on Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination but he’s widely seen as being a “no” vote, a view bolstered by his questions and statements during this week’s hearing. 

Graham, along with GOP Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), previously voted for Jackson last year for her Circuit Court seat. 

Not supporting a Supreme Court nominee would be a shift for Graham, who voted for both of then-President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees and all of then-President Trump’s Supreme Court picks. 

Opposition for Graham wouldn’t sink Jackson, but it does make it all but guaranteed that she faces a tied vote in committee. That would require Democrats to take additional steps to get her to a final vote on the Senate floor. Democrats want to confirm her by April 8, when the Senate is scheduled to start a two-week break. 

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a former chairman and current member of the committee, told reporters after Graham’s spoke that he thought the questions were “beyond the pale.” 

“As the Dean of the Senate…I’m just distressed to see this kind of a complete breakdown of what’s normally the way the Senate’s handled,” Leahy told reporters.

Updated 2:18 p.m.

Tags Barack Obama Brett Kavanaugh Dick Durbin Donald Trump Ketanji Brown Jackson Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Patrick Leahy Susan Collins
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