WASHINGTON — It’s not just Supreme Court nominee Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson being scrutinized. Senators are also being watched at this landmark moment in history considering the first black woman on the high court.
Some senators were overwhelmed with “joy,” as New Jersey’s Cory Booker described the wave of emotion he felt over the possibility of confirming a judge who would help the court look more like America.
Others, directed by the senses. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, questioned the federal judge on her views on issues of race and crime, amplifying election year grievances and a backlash over shifting culture.
Jackson endured a third day at the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, a tense 10-plus hour session that offered a vivid portrait of the nation’s promise, but also its lingering racial challenges.
At one point, Jackson listened, tears streaming down her cheek, as Booker spoke about everything that had brought her to this, “There you are.”
Here are some takeaways from day three of the week-long confirmation hearings.
IN DEFENSE OF PUBLIC DEFENDERS
Jackson is the first federal public defender to be appointed to the Supreme Court and her efforts to represent those charged with crimes, alongside her work as a federal judge, have provided a long record of difficult cases for senators to consider.
Republicans have particularly focused on the emotional and contentious debate over the judge’s sentencing for child porn offenders to paint her as soft on crime. Critics say she brings too much “empathy” to the law.
To questions from Democratic Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia, Jackson explained that prior to the court’s 1963 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, people accused of crimes but who could not afford lawyers did not have the right to legal representation.
“Anyone accused of criminal behavior now has the right to a lawyer,” she said.
“And that’s very important.”
Jackson’s case is being scrutinized the same way the work of the first black candidate for court, Thurgood Marshall, the famed civil rights attorney, was questioned for representing criminal defendants half a century ago.
Democrats argue that Jackson, who has described his own family’s work in public service as police officers, is backed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the major law enforcement organization.
“JUDGES CANNOT MAKE THE LAW”
Jackson presented herself as a judge who relies on method, not judicial philosophy, to stay neutral as she strives to “stay in my lane” as a judge rather than a public decision maker.
She expanded on that view on Wednesday, reminding senators that the Constitution gives Congress the power to make laws and the courts the power to interpret them.
“Judges cannot legislate; judges should not be policy makers,” she told senators.
Republicans have tried to portray Jackson as a potentially activist judge, one who has shown ’empathy’ for defendants and cases who they say are going too far for a position on the High Court, which is now tilted 6-3 to the Tories.
Senator Thom Tillis, RN.C., said: “It sounds like you’re a very nice person and there’s at least a level of empathy that goes into your treatment of a defendant that some might see as maybe beyond what some of us would be comfortable with.”
In a nod to her opinions, Jackson revealed that, if confirmed, she would recuse herself from hearing an affirmative action case at Harvard University, her alma mater, where she now sits on the board of Harvard oversight.
“That’s my plan,” she told senators.
EXAMINATION OF THE FILE
Senators on the Republican side repeatedly return to issues of race and crime, focusing on child pornography cases that the judge herself says are among the “most difficult” of her career – some that make her more nightmares.
Senator Lindsey Graham, R.S.C., echoed the arguments, saying that Jackson, as a judge, should have imposed harsher sentences on child pornography defendants rather than applying other deterrents, despite the fact checkers and other experts who stated the terms delivered by Jackson. meet the standards of the federal guidelines.
“Put their a… in jail,” Graham said.
Cruz, in a tense moment, demanded to know why Jackson handed down lighter sentences in a series of cases he posted on a board than government prosecutors or guidelines recommended.
The chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., gave a hammer, saying the senator’s time had expired.
“You can hit it for as long as you want,” Cruz told the president.
Jackson had said no sentence could replace all of the sentences she handed down in nearly a decade on the bench, and that she weighs every aspect of the case before her.
“I said what I’m going to say about these cases,” she said.
Senators on the Republican side signed a letter demanding records on his cases, some confidential, insisting the panel dig deeper into Jackson’s decision-making. Durbin dismissed the request as unprecedented, a “fishing expedition” he will not allow.
JOY AND BITTER SWEET TEARS
Jackson goes down in history as the first black woman appointed to the court, who once supported racial segregation in America and for 233 years was made up mostly of white men.
Democrats have the potential, with their slim 50-50 Senate majority, to confirm Jackson as President Joe Biden’s choice to replace incumbent Justice Stephen Breyer, even if all Republicans oppose. His nomination is on track for a vote at Easter.
Late in the day, Booker scored a moment saying he refused to let critics take his “joy” away from him.
“You sat down with courage and grace,” he told her, as his opponents reached a “new low” distorting his record.
Jackson’s face creased as the senator talked about her family, her work, her accomplishments. As he spoke, she pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her eye.
“You,” Booker said, “are a great American.”
If confirmed, Jackson would also become the sixth female judge in the court’s history and the fourth among the current nine members of the court.