In this file photo, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on Senate Judiciary, meets with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson began the arduous Senate confirmation process Wednesday, meeting on Capitol Hill with four key senators.
Jackson, who would become the first Black woman on the court if confirmed, started her morning with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. Schumer said he expects Republicans will vote for Jackson, despite several expressing opposition to her nomination.
She later spoke privately with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican; Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat; and the panel’s top Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
The Judiciary panel is scheduled to begin confirmation hearings Monday, March 21, when members of the committee and Jackson make their opening statements.
The next two days will include rounds of questions from senators before the American Bar Association and other witnesses testify on March 24.
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Wednesday’s meetings all started off with a small group of reporters and photojournalists rushing into the rooms to capture images of the historic nominee before staff quickly ushered them out so she could talk candidly with top lawmakers.
Schumer said after his roughly 30-minute meeting with Jackson that he believes she belongs on the court. Schumer said Jackson reminds him of Justice Stephen Breyer, whom she clerked for and would replace on the court if confirmed.
“She has real empathy,” Schumer said. “I think it’s very important in a judge — because you’re having two sides clashing over whatever the issue is — to be able to empathize and walk in the other person’s shoes.”
Meetings between Supreme Court nominees and senators often veer away from their resumes and judicial philosophies to more personal topics. Schumer said he and Jackson talked about how both of their families are close-knit, gathering together for weekly dinners.
“She understands life in a very real way because of her experiences,” Schumer said of both her personal life and the “breadth” of her professional experiences.
Jackson grew up in Miami, where she graduated from Miami Palmetto Senior High School. Jackson’s parents both started out as public school teachers. Her father, Johnny Brown, later became an attorney for the Miami-Dade School Board, and her mother, Ellery Brown, became the principal at New World School of the Arts, a public high school with a magnet program.
Grassley said while posing for photos with Jackson before their afternoon meeting that he would work to ensure her confirmation process is “fair” and “dignified.”
“I just think that we’re gonna meet our constitutional responsibility of advise and consent with dignity and fairness and most importantly, thoroughness,” Grassley said.
President Joe Biden nominated Jackson last month, fulfilling a campaign promise to place a Black woman on the Supreme Court for the first time in the nation’s history.
Jackson, who earned her law degree from Harvard University and received bipartisan support for her confirmation as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last year, would also be the first former public defender on the court.
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She will continue meeting privately with Democratic and Republican senators during the next few weeks as she simultaneously prepares to undergo days of questioning from the 22 lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee.
Durbin said after his roughly 45-minute meeting with Jackson that he believes Republicans have enough time to prepare for the hearings.
“That will be the 24th day after President Biden’s announcement of this nominee,” Durbin said. “In comparison, Amy Coney Barrett came before the committee 16 days after President Trump’s announcement.”
Durbin said the goal is for Jackson to meet with all members of the committee ahead of the hearings. She would then continue meeting with other senators ahead of a floor vote.
Durbin said Jackson’s confirmation hearings could be open to the public, even though Senate office buildings are currently open only to lawmakers, staff, credentialed press and people on official business. Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, the three buildings just steps from the Capitol were available to members of the public, who were able to attend hearings and markups in designated seats.
“As long as we have an opportunity for an orderly witnessing of this process, I would support it. But I want to make sure first and foremost that we take into consideration public health and security, and I’ll rely on the experts to give advice on that,” Durbin said.
Durbin didn’t want to speculate on when the Judiciary Committee would vote to send Jackson’s nomination to the Senate floor.
That vote is expected to take place within the two weeks after her hearings. Schumer is planning a floor vote on her confirmation before the Senate leaves town on Friday, April 8 for its Easter recess.
If confirmed, Jackson would not alter the court’s 6-3 conservative tilt.
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