WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson vowed Monday in her opening remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee that she would be an impartial justice on the high court if she is confirmed.
“I have been a judge for nearly a decade now, and I take that responsibility and my duty to be independent very seriously,” Brown told members of the committee. “I decide cases from a neutral posture. I evaluate the facts, and I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me, without fear or favor, consistent with my judicial oath.”
Jackson, 51, is currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, a post she was confirmed to last year with bipartisan support. Her nomination by President Joe Biden is historic: She would be the first Black woman and first public defender on the Supreme Court.
Monday marked the first day of Jackson’s four-day confirmation hearing.
“During this hearing, I hope that you will see how much I love our country and the Constitution and the rights that make us free,” she said. “I stand on the shoulders of so many who have come before me, including Judge Constance Baker Motley, who was the first African American woman to be appointed to the federal bench ― and with whom I share a birthday.”
Jackson was joined Monday by friends and family, including her husband and two young daughters. She was introduced by Thomas Griffith, a conservative former U.S. appeals court judge appointed by President George W. Bush, and Lisa Fairfax, a former college roommate at Harvard who now teaches law.
Griffith echoed Jackson’s vow to be apolitical if confirmed, calling her “an independent jurist who adjudicates based on the facts and the law and not as a partisan.”
Fairfax, who has been friends with Jackson for 35 years, called her “a woman of deep faith in God and unyielding love of family” and “the rock” for their circle of friends.
“Even though we are the same age, she is the role model who makes you believe in what she said: ‘You can do it, and here’s how,’” she said. “And she showed us how, by the power of her example of hard work, preparation and excellence that transforms the seemingly impossible into the achievable.”
“We knew early on that she could be anything she chose to be,” Fairfax added, “but also, that she seemed destined to be a judge because of her ability to see all sides and render fair and level-headed decisions.”
Monday’s hearing consisted mostly of pleasant introductory remarks. But starting Tuesday, members of the committee will begin asking Jackson questions about her record and judicial philosophy. Republicans have already signaled plans to attack her for being “soft on crime,” citing her representation of Guantanamo Bay detainees and her tenure on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
This line of attack is part of a broader GOP political effort to paint Biden’s judicial nominees as “soft on crime” ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
“These baseless charges are unfair,” Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in his opening remarks, referring to GOP accusations that Jackson has been too lenient with criminals.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the panel, vowed that Jackson would be treated respectfully even as he said he has concerns with her judicial philosophy and with some of the progressive groups supporting her nomination.
“We won’t try to turn this into a spectacle based on alleged process fouls,” Grassley said.
“It won’t be a circus,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) added. Nevertheless, he urged Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) to press Jackson over her record on sex offender sentencing guidelines, calling it “very fair game.”
Last week, Hawley launched a series of false and misleading attacks on Jackson claiming that she was too lenient on sex offenses during her tenure on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. But Hawley neglected to mention that most of Jackson’s work was supported by conservative members of the panel and that her recommendations were well within the mainstream. His accusations were rebutted by the White House and independent fact-checkers.
Hawley suggested Monday that, despite his pre-hearing attacks on Jackson, he wants the hearing to be respectful and fair.
“I’m not interested in trapping Judge Jackson. I’m not interested in playing gotcha,” he said in his opening remarks. “I’m interested in her answers.”
Based on their opening remarks in Monday’s hearing, Republicans appear to have settled on a scattershot approach to questioning Jackson — suggesting they don’t have a clear line of attack on Biden’s nominee.
Their introductory comments all centered around the GOP’s claims of Jackson being “soft on crime,” which aren’t backed up by a closer look at her record; on Jackson’s support by a progressive judicial advocacy group called Demand Justice, which has nothing to do with her record; and on the general need for civility and decorum in the hearing.
Republicans know they have to be careful not to look like they are opposed to Jackson, who would be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, for any other reason than her judicial ideology. Delving into sensitive questions about her record of punishment for child pornography and sex offenses may not work out in Republicans’ favor.
Durbin has previously, and bluntly, accused Republicans of being unfairly hostile toward Black, female nominees who come before the committee. He told reporters this month that he is “very concerned” about how they’ll treat Jackson, noting that a previous Black female nominee received death threats after particularly hostile treatment by GOP members of the committee.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), meanwhile, urged all of his colleagues to take a minute and feel “the overwhelming joy” of Jackson’s historic nomination. He’s the only Black member of the committee and its second-ever Black member. Vice President Kamala Harris was the other one.
“I just want to talk about the joy,” Booker said, beaming. “I know tomorrow and in the coming hearings, we’re going to have tough, hard questions. But please, let me just acknowledge the fact that this is not normal. It’s never happened before. The Senate is poised right now to break another barrier.”
He added, “It’s a sign that we, as a country, are continuing to rise to our collective, cherished, highest ideals.”