As her confirmation hearing begins, Jackson is expected to become the first Black woman to sit on the bench of the country’s highest court. What pushback is she receiving from conservatives?
US Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson will appear before the Senate judiciary committee on Monday for her four-day-long confirmation hearing.
President Joe Biden nominated Jackson, 51, last month to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, whom she had previously clerked for.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden pledged he would pick a Black woman for the court. If confirmed, Jackson will become the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court in its 233-year history, and the second-youngest appointee behind 50-year-old Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
It would also mark the first time that there will be two African American justices – Clarence Thomas being the other – and four women serving at the same time on the nine-person court.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is eager to get Jackson confirmed before the senate’s recess, which begins on April 8.
Born in Washington, Jackson grew up in Florida and attained her legal training at Harvard Law school. She won accolades as a standout debater in high school, while her writing and analytical skills earned her a spot as an editor on the prestigious Harvard Law Review.
Jackson is unique in that Supreme Court candidates rarely have experience representing criminal defendants, and if selected, she would also be the first former federal public defender to serve
Jackson spent eight years on the US District Court for the District of Columbia before being confirmed to the US Court of Appeals last year, a court dubbed the “second-highest court in the land,” given that many justices advanced to the supreme court from there.
As a whole, Jackson’s views based on her legal career up to this point have been hard to pin down. Despite conservative attempts to characterise Jackson as a “radical leftwing activist,” a more nuanced appraisal of her opinions while on the District Court in DC includes several instances in which she sided with the Trump administration and against the same left-leaning groups that now support her confirmation.
“The idea that you could look to [district court rulings] to determine if someone is liberal or conservative – that’s just not been my experience,” Tracey George, a Vanderbilt Law School professor, told the New York Times.
How are conservatives attacking Jackson’s record?
Critical to Jackson’s appointment chances will be how much bipartisan support she garners. With a 50-50 split in the Senate – and Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote – the Democrats cannot afford a single defection if Jackson’s vote goes along party lines.
As a result, all eyes will be on moderate Republicans to throw their weight behind her at a time when opposition senators backing supreme court nominees have become rare and highly politicised.
When Jackson was confirmed by the Senate for a seat in the US court of appeals for the DC circuit last June, three Republicans backed her: South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins.
Graham, however, has since indicated that he might be less amenable to her upcoming nomination, suggesting Jackson mixes in “radical” leftwing circles.
Jackson’s hearings will once again bring the national spotlight on the country’s highest court trajectory, currently controlled by a Conservative supermajority, 6-3.
The televised sessions could provide a glimpse into how Jackson views her place on the court’s now diminished liberal wing and how she plans to work with colleagues across the ideological divide.
It also might get ugly, with some controversies swirling in the lead-up to the hearings.
Leading Republicans are still on the fence on how they plan to vote, and many have cynically attempted to use Jackson’s selection as a Black woman to decry Biden’s decision as an “affirmative-action hire” and a result of “wokeness”. Fox News host Tucker Carlson went as far as to question her credentials and demanded to see her LSAT scores in a segment earlier this month.
Last week, Missouri Republican senator Josh Hawley tried to discredit Jackson in a barrage of tweets, accusing her of “being soft” on child pornography and enabling child predators throughout her legal career.
Hawley said there’s “an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children.” His statements drew a rebuke from the White House, calling the senator’s claim “toxic and weakly-presented misinformation that relies on taking cherry-picked elements of her record out of context.”
Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Dean of Boston University School of Law, said that Jackson’s sentences on non-production child porn cases were “completely in the mainstream” of such ruling guidelines.
Jackson’s record as a defense attorney has also come under attack. Again it was Hawley, this time calling Jackson’s work on behalf of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay “a little concerning”.
The Republican National Committee, which put out a list of talking points on Jackson the day following her nomination, argued that “Jackson’s advocacy for these terrorists was ‘zealous’” and went “beyond just giving them a competent defense”.
SCOTUS’ widening legitimacy deficit
If confirmed, Jackson will be thrust into a moment when the Supreme Court’s institutional legitimacy has come under criticism over a myriad of hot-button social issues.
In the 12 years since the last Democratic nominee Elena Kagan was approved, the GOP has managed to stack the bench with a conservative supermajority after former President Donald Trump presided over the selection of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – both of whom were advocated for by the Federalist Society.
The bench’s rightwing thrust has only deepened over issues concerning abortion, religious liberty and voting rights in recent years.
Fear over the loss of reproductive rights has gripped many Americans after the court allowed Texas to ban abortions last September, and appears to be hurtling dangerously close to repealing Roe v Wade, which legalised abortion nationwide since 1973.
The pandemic has also seen the court side with religious groups challenging Covid-19 restrictions and has exempted religious believers from several government regulations.
Civil rights advocates worry that the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which protects voting rights in the country, is being threatened by the Supreme Court and lower-ranking federal judges. The court has dumped reviews of ballot changes, making it harder to sue for racial discrimination.
Racial affirmative action policies have come under fire too, with a number of cases set to be heard when the 2022-23 session begins in October.