Senate Democrats on Wednesday defended Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s nominee to become the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, from Republican attacks painting her as a liberal activist as her confirmation hearing entered a third day.
Jackson faced more questioning by the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee after a marathon session on Tuesday during which Republicans pursued a series of hostile questions. Jackson rejected Republican accusations that she was improperly lenient as a judge in sentencing child pornography offenders and criticism of her legal representation earlier in her career of some detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Republican senators also have tried to link Jackson to activist groups on the left and to “critical race theory,” which argues American history and institutions are infused with racial bias.
So far, there is no sign that the Republican attacks are likely to derail Jackson’s confirmation, with Democrats narrowly controlling the Senate. With a simple majority needed for confirmation and the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties, she would get the job if Democrats remain united regardless of how the Republicans vote.
There are signs that not all Republican senators are on board with the targeting of Jackson’s record on sentencing. Republican Senator Thom Tillis said during the hearing that he was “sympathetic to some of it, not necessarily all of it” when describing the claims made his colleagues. Republican Senator Mitt Romney told the Washington Post that the attacks on Jackson were “off course.”
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who chairs the committee, on Wednesday praised Jackson for her poise under pressure and defended her record. He said some Republicans had used the hearing as “an opportunity to showcase talking points for the November election” when control of Congress is up for grabs, including the argument that Democrats are “soft on crime.”
“Well, you have made a mess of their stereotype,” Durbin said, pointing to the fact that she has been endorsed by law enforcement groups, including the National Fraternal Order of Police.
“Law enforcement is on your side because you’ve been on their side at critical moments. And your family has dedicated a big part of their lives to law enforcement, and you obviously believe it at your core,” Durbin said.
Durbin also said that her approach to child pornography sentencing was similar to the vast majority of federal judges.
Senator Chuck Grassley, the committee’s top Republican, complained about documents that senators have sought relating to Jackson’s sentencing record and her time on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a federal agency that recommends sentencing guidelines.
“How is the United States Senate supposed to review a record that we don’t have?” Grassley asked.
Jackson has served since last year as a federal appellate judge after eight years as a federal district court judge. Her confirmation would not change the court’s ideological balance but would let Biden freshen its liberal bloc with a 51-year-old jurist young enough to serve for decades. The Democratic president nominated Jackson last month to the lifetime post to succeed retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer.
Tillis during his questioning of Jackson joined other Republicans in denouncing proposals from the left to expand the size of the Supreme Court to neutralize its current 6-3 conservative majority, and pushed Jackson to oppose the idea.
As she also did on Tuesday, Jackson declined to give her opinion but said she understood the arguments on both sides. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s third Supreme Court appointee, also sidestepped the issue at her 2020 confirmation hearing.
Jackson’s questioning by senators is due to end on Wednesday. Outside experts are scheduled to testify on Thursday’s final day of the hearing.
In responding to Republican claims that she has been lenient in sentencing child pornography offenders, Jackson said on Tuesday that “nothing could be further from the truth” and that she “did my duty to hold the defendants accountable.” Sentencing experts in a March 20 letter to the committee deemed Jackson’s sentencing in such cases “squarely within the mainstream of federal district court judges nationally.”
Jackson also said her past legal representation of Guantanamo detainees was consistent with American values of fairness.
If confirmed, Jackson would be the 116th justice to serve on the high court, the sixth woman and the third Black person. With Jackson on the bench, the court for the first time would have four women and two Black justices.