Candice Norwood, Terri Rupar
Originally published by The 19th
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings began Monday, less than a month after President Joe Biden announced her history-making nomination. The Senate is charged with confirming nominees to federal courts, and it’s Jackson’s fourth Senate confirmation hearing but the first time a Black woman has been considered for a role on the highest court. Here’s what to know as hearings continue:
When are Supreme Court confirmation hearings?
The Senate Judiciary Committee has begun its confirmation hearing. On Monday, committee members gave opening statements, and then Jackson also spoke.
Hearings will start at 9 a.m. on subsequent days. On Tuesday and Wednesday, senators will ask Jackson questions, and on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony from the American Bar Association and other outside witnesses.
What has happened so far?
The first day of hearings yielded few surprises. Republican senators outlined several lines of criticism against Jackson that were highly anticipated. Democratic senators celebrated the significance of Jackson’s nomination to the high court and touted the value of her diverse professional and personal background as a former federal public defender and vice chair for the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
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Republicans, however, spent a notable portion of time expressing grievances over how Democrats have treated past conservative Supreme Court nominees — most notably current Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose confirmation process in 2018 was consumed by allegations of sexual misconduct.
Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee offered some of the most pointed statements during the first day. Graham said his favored pick for the Supreme Court nomination, U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs, was treated poorly. He also implied without evidence that outside political groups led to Jackson’s selection. Hawley doubled down on his assertions that Jackson as a district judge gave lenient sentences to people with child pornography convictions. Legal experts across the political spectrum have noted that Hawley’s argument lacks context and that Jackson’s decisions in these cases fall in line with those of other judges. In addition to reiterating Hawley’s concerns, Blackburn questioned Jackson’s support for “parental rights” while speaking out against discussions of race and gender identity in schools. These remarks come as wave of anti-transgender bills continue to be introduced in state legislatures.
The day ended with Jackson’s opening statement, during which she retold her life story and noted key people like her parents and a high school teacher who encouraged her to pursue whatever she wanted to do in life.
Who is Ketanji Brown Jackson?
Jackson, 51, is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. If confirmed, she will be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. She’d also be the first former federal public defender in the court’s 232-year history.
She’s previously been confirmed by the Senate three times, including last June, when she took the appeals court seat vacated by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Jackson was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Miami. Her parents were both public school teachers and graduates of historically Black colleges. Jackson got both her bachelor’s and law degrees from Harvard, and in 1999 took a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, whose pending retirement opened the door for her nomination. She then went on to a number of positions in private practice and government, including stints on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
She became a U.S. district judge in March 2013, and in that role and in her current appeals court post, she has ruled in several high-profile cases, including some involving the Trump administration. In 2019, she ruled against then-President Donald Trump in an immigration case and then again against his administration’s attempts to stop then-White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying as part of Congress’ impeachment inquiry. More recently, she was on a three-judge panel that rejected Trump’s request to block the release of documents to the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Who is on the Judiciary Committee?
Democrats control the evenly split Senate and will lead the confirmation process. The Judiciary Committee is chaired by Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois. Senators speak in order of seniority, with parties alternating.
The other Democrats on the committee, in order of seniority, are:
- Patrick Leahy of Vermont
- Dianne Feinstein of California
- Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island
- Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota
- Chris Coons of Delaware
- Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut
- Mazie Hirono of Hawaii
- Cory Booker of New Jersey
- Alex Padilla of California
- Jon Ossoff of Georgia
The top Republican on the committee is Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
Other Republicans on the committee, in order of seniority, are:
- Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
- John Cornyn of Texas
- Mike Lee of Utah
- Ted Cruz of Texas
- Ben Sasse of Nebraska
- Josh Hawley of Missouri
- Tom Cotton of Arkansas
- John Kennedy of Louisiana
- Thom Tillis of North Carolina
- Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee
What happens after this week’s hearing?
The members of the Judiciary Committee will vote on whether to recommend that the full Senate confirm Jackson. The nomination will then go to the full Senate, which will debate and vote. She needs a simple majority to be confirmed.
Last June, three Republicans voted to confirm Jackson to the federal appeals court: Graham, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. It’s unclear whether they will support her Supreme Court nomination.
If confirmed, how would Jackson change the Supreme Court?
Jackson would be replacing Breyer and would not change the ideological alignment of the court, on which conservatives currently hold a 6-3 majority. But she does bring different experiences than the other justices, including her background as public defender.
She has said that work prompted her to communicate more clearly with defendants when she was a judge.
“I speak to them directly and not just to their lawyers,” Jackson said. “I use their names. I explain every stage of the proceeding because I want them to know what’s going on.”
In her last confirmation hearing, Jackson was asked about her judicial philosophy.
“I do not have a judicial philosophy per se, other than to apply the same method of thorough analysis to every case, regardless of the parties,” she said. She added: “Given the very different functions of a trial court judge and a Supreme Court justice, I am not able to draw an analogy between any particular justice’s judicial philosophy and the approach that I have employed.”
How many Supreme Court justices are there, and who are they?
Nine justices sit on the Supreme Court. Breyer, 83, was nominated by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and has been on the court since 1994. The other justices, in order of seniority on the court, are:
- John Roberts, 67, the chief justice, nominated by President George W. Bush, a Republican, in 2005
- Clarence Thomas, 73, nominated by President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, in 1991
- Samuel Alito, 71, nominated by George W. Bush in 2005 and joined the court in 2006
- Sonia Sotomayor, 67, nominated by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in 2009
- Elena Kagan, 61, nominated by Obama in 2010
- Neil Gorsuch, 54, nominated by President Donald Trump, a Republican, in 2017
- Brett Kavanaugh, 57, nominated by Trump in 2018
- Amy Coney Barrett, 50, nominated by Trump in 2020