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 — The 22 members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee each had 10 minutes on Monday to make opening statements about the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here’s what some had to say:
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said that Republicans on the committee would conduct a respectful hearing, taking a swipe at Democrats, who grilled current Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during contentious 2018 hearings over his past sexual assault accusations.
“What we will do, however, is ask tough questions about Judge Jackson’s judicial philosophy,” he said. “We won’t try to turn this into a spectacle based on alleged process fouls.”
Grassley, the ranking Republican on the committee, said he is mainly looking at Jackson’s commitment to following the Constitution.
“In any Supreme Court nomination, the most important thing we look for is the nominee’s view of the law, judicial philosophy and view on the role of a judge,” he said. “I’ll be looking to see whether Judge Jackson is committed to the Constitution as originally understood.”
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said that Jackson’s nomination was important as Americans are “one Supreme Court decision away from losing their health insurance or one decision away from the ability to make their one health care choices, or the Dreamers who could lose the only country they’ve ever known.”
If confirmed, Brown’s appointment would not shift the court’s solid conservative leaning of 6-3.
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Klobuchar said she was looking forward to hearing about Jackson’s views about “the real world implications of the law and about how you will respect the Constitution and legal precedent, all while striving to ensure that we have a court that works for the American people.”
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska spent his opening statement criticizing Democrats for bullying either current or former Supreme Court nominees who did not align with their views.
“This process is broken,” Sasse said, adding that the Senate has an opportunity to approach the hearing with respect.
“This process is supposed to be a careful, thoughtful investigation of a nominee’s record to help the Senate make an informed decision on a nominee’s fitness for a lifetime appointment,” Sasse said.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said he appreciated how candid and forthcoming Jackson was during her meeting with him prior to the hearing.
Hawley, who accused Jackson in a Twitter thread of being too lenient on child sex offenders, said he was concerned about several aspects of her record, including when she was a district court judge and sentenced those convicted of child pornography. He took issue with her “handling down a lenient sentence that was below what the federal guidelines recommended.”
“I think there’s a lot to talk about there,” Hawley said.
Hawley said that he’s interested in Jackson’s answers to his questions about how she handled sentencing for those cases.
It’s not uncommon for a federal judge to not follow sentencing guidelines for non-production offenses of child pornography — in fiscal year 2019, only 30% of those offenders received sentences that fell within federal guidelines. Possession, receipt and distribution of child pornography are included in non-production offenses.
The White House has pushed back on Hawley’s comments. Press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday some of Hawley’s research was taken out of context and that, as a trial judge, Jackson had largely stayed within sentencing guidelines or issued stronger sentences.
“Attempts to smear or discredit her history and her work are not borne out in facts,” she said.
Hawley ended his remarks Monday by saying: “I found in our time together that she was enormously thoughtful and enormously accomplished, and I suspect has a coherent view and explanation and way of thinking about this that I look forward to hearing.”
Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat, emphasized the symbolic importance of Jackson’s appointment as the first Black woman nominated for the court and the experience she would bring to the court as its first former public defender.
“We are on the precipice of shattering another ceiling, another glass ceiling,” he said. “It’s a sign that we as a country are continuing to rise to our collective cherished highest ideals.”
Booker, the first Black senator from New Jersey and only the fourth elected since Reconstruction, said Jackson would get tough questions Tuesday, but on Monday wanted to focus on the “joy” he felt about the milestone.
While the mostly white men who sat on the bench for centuries were accomplished public servants, Booker said, diversifying the court’s ranks makes for a stronger judiciary.
“Now we are showing that we will indeed go deep into the waters of our nation and pull forth the best talent,” he said.
Jackson’s public defender work was also “unprecedented” for a high court nominee, Booker added, and would add an important perspective.
Republican Sen. John Kennedy focused his opening remarks on the role of the judiciary, which he said should be constrained to interpreting laws created by Congress, not creating them.
“Judicial power is important,” Kennedy said. “So is judicial restraint.”
Kennedy said it was crucial to balance representative government and what he called declarative government. Judges must make decisions that are sometimes at odds with popular opinion, he said.
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The judiciary should not be a “mini-Congress,” Kennedy said, but should be insulated from political forces.
“Federal judges don’t make law,” he said. “They don’t tell us what the law ought to be. They tell us what the law is.”
Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican, was congratulatory and complimentary toward Jackson, but mentioned reservations about her judicial philosophy that may keep him from voting for her, as they did during the confirmation process to seat Jackson on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year.
Tillis said he was “quite impressed” with Jackson during a meeting in his office earlier this month. She was “honest and forthcoming” and indulgent of questions Tillis and staff posed, he said. Jackson has a strong record of ethical conduct, honesty, integrity, respect and endeavoring to be just and compassionate, he added.
“I think you have the right temperament just based on how I’ve seen you react to the statements today,” Tillis said.
Still, he said, he wanted a justice who would be an impartial umpire, not an activist.
“As I noted during your confirmation to the Circuit Court, I do have some additional questions and concerns to reconcile my conception of the right mindset of a judge going to the Supreme Court,” he said.
He said Monday he would review her writings — he was about halfway through a thesis she wrote, he said — to better understand her judicial philosophy “and whether or not it fits with my conception of the right philosophy of someone I would vote to confirm.”
First-term Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff invoked the vigilante killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, in 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia, and subsequent non-prosecution by local authorities, to argue that the United States often fails to deliver on the ideals promised in the Constitution.
The Supreme Court “remains essential to that national process of becoming in real life what America is in text,” he said.
Noting that, if confirmed, Jackson would hear cases “well into the middle of this century,” the Senate’s youngest member said he looked forward to learning how Jackson would consider constitutional questions that have not been raised before.
Those questions include “protections against unreasonable search and seizure in an age of ubiquitous surveillance,” war powers where the law is unsettled between the executive and legislative branches, and First Amendment freedoms.
Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, appeared among the least likely to support Jackson’s nomination, raising a litany of culture war issues that included critical race theory, transgender rights and Democrats’ treatment of former President Donald Trump’s nominees.
Blackburn also picked up Hawley’s attack that Jackson was too lenient to child pornography convicts.
“When I talk to Tennesseans, one of the most important things that they bring up is the issue of parental rights and wanting to be able to rear their children as they see fit,” Blackburn said.
Jackson’s praise for “progressive education” contradicted Blackburn’s position on parental rights, the senator said.
Jackson’s involvement with a school that acknowledges white privilege and teaches that gender identity is a choice was concerning, Blackburn said. Blackburn did not name the school but Jackson sits on the board of trustees of Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C.
“Your public endorsement of this type of progressive indoctrination of our children causes one great concern when it comes to how you may rule on cases involving parental rights,” Blackburn said.
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