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Juan Williams: GOP plays the race card on Ketanji Brown Jackson

Can you say you are confident that Ketanji Brown Jackson is about to join the Supreme Court?

If the past is prologue, Jackson is in for some very rough treatment, if not rejection.

Only three people who are not white have been confirmed by the Senate to serve on the nation’s highest court. All came close to being derailed.

In 1967, Thurgood Marshall was flat-out asked if he was “prejudiced against white people in the South?” The question came from Sen. James Eastland (D-Miss.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

{mosads}Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) sought to caricature Marshall as a dumb Black guy — or as today’s Republicans might say, an “affirmative action hire.” 

Thurmond’s best effort on that front was to ask Marshall to name the authors of the 14th Amendment. Marshall responded by glaring. 

Other senators on that occasion tried to tie Marshall, a former federal judge and Solicitor General, to crime, riots and racial unrest because of Marshall’s courtroom success in breaking segregation laws.

But Marshall had a history of working with the FBI, as I detailed in my biography of the justice.

In 1991, a different brand of harsh treatment — some might say it was worse — fell on Clarence Thomas.

Even before Anita Hill, I remember being asked if I knew anything about scurrilous lies that Thomas beat his first wife.

Then his intellect was attacked.

In Thomas’ case, it was said then-President George H.W. Bush was filling the court’s “Black seat” with Thomas only because he was one of the few lawyers who was both Black and ideologically opposed to Marshall. In other words, affirmative action for Black conservatives.

Thomas famously told the committee that their treatment of him amounted to a “a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks who…have different ideas.”

Then in 2009, the first Hispanic woman nominated to the court, Sonia Sotomayor, faced claims that she was a racist because she once said a “wise Latina” might make better decisions than a white man.

In fact, she accurately pointed out the complete absence of women of color in the deliberations of a court that has existed since 1789.

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” Sotomayor said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) told Sotomayor that any suggestion that a judge’s background might impact his or her decisions was “against the American ideal and oath that a judge takes to be fair to every party.”

He never worried about the limited experiences of white men affecting their decisions. Only four people who were not white men had served on the court before Sotomayor. Still, she saw 31 senators vote against her confirmation.

But she got support from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Graham also voted to confirm the current nominee, Jackson, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last year. But now he rails against her as a member of the “radical left.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) similarly says she is a favorite of the “soft-on-crime brigade” because of her work as a public defender. 

That’s curious.

Jackson has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Police Chiefs. Her uncle served as the Chief of Police for Miami.

All this is a replay of the weak-on-crime attack on Marshall.

The white Republicans questioning Jackson this week have already planted doubt about her merit and intellect.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman was evidence of a “race-obsessed” view on the left.

But it is hard to say Jackson lacks the qualifications or the intellect to join the high court. She went to Harvard Law, served as a Supreme Court law clerk, a federal public defense lawyer and on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

{mossecondads}And she has been confirmed by the Senate three times, earning bipartisan votes for the Sentencing Commission post and for two judgeships in lower courts.

As a matter of merit, she deserves a 100-0 confirmation.

Merit was not the issue when McConnell packed the court with right-wingers.

He stole a Supreme Court seat from then-President Obama by refusing to vote on another well-qualified nominee, current Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Then Republicans glossed over serious questions about Brett Kavanaugh’s qualifications, including his record of overt partisanship.

Later, they fast tracked Amy Coney Barrett to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat.

It was incredible hypocrisy. They denied Garland a vote by claiming his nomination came too close to a presidential election. But Garland was nominated eight months before the 2016 election. Barrett was nominated less than six weeks before the 2020 contest.

Given that track record, I expect the GOP and their allies in the right-media echo chamber to use every wink and nod of racist attacks to deny Jackson a court seat.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Either way, my best advice for Jackson is to follow former first lady Michelle Obama’s legal advice — when they go low, go high — and demonstrate why she will be a fine jurist.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

Tags Amy Coney Barrett Anita Hill Barack Obama Brett Kavanaugh Clarence Thomas Jeff Sessions Josh Hawley Judicial nominations Ketanji Brown Jackson Lindsey Graham Merrick Garland Michelle Obama Mitch McConnell Race racial justice racial politics Ruth Bader Ginsburg Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court

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