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Supreme Court confirmation hearings: Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson defends judicial record

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson
Posted at 7:35 AM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 20:15:21-04

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee directly questioned Supreme Court justice nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for hours on Tuesday — the second day of a four-day confirmation hearing.

It had been the first full day of questions for Judge Jackson which was packed with some big ones. Jackson is making history as the first Black woman nominated for the high court.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle questioned Jackson on both her qualifications and her legal views. Her judicial philosophy was examined along with aspects of her views on crime and sentencing, with a long portion of the hearing focusing on her sentencing of child pornography offenders.

President Joe Biden chose Jackson to replace Justice Stephen Breyer who is retiring.

Packing the court

Jackson on Tuesday repeatedly chose not to provide her views on "court packing," saying that she would avoid questions about political policy.

"In my view, judges should not be speaking into political issues," Jackson said in response to a question by Committee Chairman Dick Durbin.

When asked again for her views on court-packing by Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, Jackson said she hoped to "stay in her lane" as a judge.

"It is a policy question for Congress. I am particularly mindful of not speaking to policy questions," Jackson said.

Because the number of Supreme Court justices is not spelled out in the Constitution, some Democrats in recent years have floated adding more justices to the court as a way of evening out the balance of power on the court.

Those Democrats say they would be right to do so after a Republican-controlled Senate refused to hold a hearing for President Barack Obama's nominee ahead of the 2016 election but quickly seated President Donald Trump's nominee in 2020.

Abortion

Under questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, Jackson was asked whether she thinks landmark cases like Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey were "settled law." In her questioning, Feinstein noted that she asked the two most recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, the same question.

"I do agree with both Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Barrett on this issue. Roe and Casey are the settled law of the Supreme Court concerning the right to terminate a woman's pregnancy," Jackson said.

While Jackson's answer was in line with Barrett's and Kavanaugh's, abortion law in the U.S. may look radically different in a matter of weeks. The Supreme Court has already signaled that it will allow states to drastically roll back a woman's access to abortion when it rules on a landmark case out of Mississippi later this year.

Past sentences on child pornography cases

A handful of conservative lawmakers have accused Jackson of handing down lighter sentences in child pornography cases she presided over. When asked about those cases by Durbin on Tuesday, she firmly pushed back.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Jackson said. "In every case, it's important to me that children's voices are represented in my sentence."

She added that she strove to hand down sentences that are "sufficient but not more than necessary."

Several media outlets, including The Associated Press, have shot down claims that Jackson's child pornography sentences were lighter than other judges.

Jackson said during Tuesday's hearing, "I take these cases very seriously as a mother, as someone who, as a judge has to review the actual evidence in these cases and based on Congress' requirement, taken into account, not only the sentencing guidelines, not only the recommendations of the parties but also things like the stories of the victims. Also things like the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant. I did my duty to hold the defendants accountable in light of the evidence and the information that was presented to me."

In another moment Jackson said, "I said before, these are horrible cases that involve terrible crimes, and the court is looking at all of the evidence consistent with Congress's factors for sentencing. The guidelines are one factor, but the court is told that you look at the guidelines but you also look at the nature and circumstances of the offense, the history and characteristics of the offender. There are a series of factors. In the cases, you are also getting recommendations, and in most of the cases I haven't pinned it all down, but in most of the cases if not all of the cases the government is asking for a sentence below the guidelines because this guideline system is not doing the work in this particular case."

Cameras in the Supreme Court

When asked by Grassley if she thought cameras should be allowed in the Supreme Court, Jackson said she would need to speak with other members of the court before forming an opinion on the matter.

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Tuesday's session came a day after Jackson promised to keep a "neutral posture" on the high court during her opening statements.

"I evaluate the facts, and I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me, without fear or favor, consistent with my judicial oath," Jackson said.

She also addressed the historic nature of her confirmation. She's the first Black woman ever to be nominated to serve on the Supreme Court.

"Unlike the many barriers (my parents) had had to face growing up, my path was clearer, such that if I worked hard and believed in myself, in America I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be," Jackson said.

Lawmakers were in agreement that they welcomed Jackson's diverse background on the high court.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he was in favor of having the court "look more like America," and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said that Jackson's nomination marked "a new page in the history of America — a good page."

During one moment on Tuesday, Jackson was asked about her views on the teaching of critical race theory in some schools. Jackson paused, and sighed, then gave her answer after Sen. Ted Cruz used enlarged images of children's books to question the Harvard-educated judge about her views on teaching the subject.

Republican senators — many of whom, in a rapidly polarizing political climate, will likely vote against Jackson's confirmation — spent much of their opening statements pledging a challenging but fair confirmation process. Throughout Monday's hearings, Republican members pledged to keep things civil, blaming Democrats for attempting to hijack the 2018 confirmation hearings of Justice Brett Kavanaugh amid the accusations of sexual assault which he faced.

Jackson's potential appointment to the Supreme Court likely won't influence its ideological makeup. In replacing Breyer, Jackson would join the court's liberal contingent, which is currently outnumbered 3-6 by conservative-leaning justices.

Jackson's confirmation hearings will conclude Thursday when lawmakers will hold one final day of hearings without Jackson.