US Senate mulls first Black woman for Supreme Court
Marathon confirmation hearings begin Monday for the historic Supreme Court nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman to serve on the highest court in the United States.
President Joe Biden’s pick will be formally introduced during televised hearings at 11:00 am (1500 GMT), followed by two days of questioning and a day of testimony from outside witnesses.
“Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a brilliant legal mind with the utmost character and integrity,” Biden tweeted ahead of the hearing.
“She deserves to be confirmed as the next Justice of the Supreme Court.”
Jackson, a 51-year-old former federal public defender with almost a decade of experience on lower courts, served as a law clerk to Stephen Breyer, the retiring liberal justice she is being nominated to replace.
Democratic leaders plan a final Senate vote by early April, with focus on the court sharpened by the weekend hospitalization of 73-year-old conservative Clarence Thomas, its second Black justice in history, with “flu-like symptoms.”
Thomas is expected to be released from hospital in the next day or two.
Jackson is the first Black woman tapped for a seat on the court and would also be the first nominee of a Democratic president to be confirmed to the Supreme Court since Elena Kagan in 2010.
No ‘character assassination’
With her confirmation to replace Breyer and become the court’s 116th justice all but assured and the 6-3 conservative balance of the court not in play, the prospects for major drama are low.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will meet Monday through Thursday to consider Jackson’s nomination, which is being conducted by a 50-50 chamber controlled by Democrats, meaning there is no room for missteps.
No red flags have been raised about Jackson’s record that would damage her prospects, and Republicans have pledged to avoid the kind of “character assassination” they argue Democrats staged before the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
But conservatives have been signaling that they intend to go after Jackson’s record as a public defender, her work defending Guantanamo Bay detainees and her tenure on the US Sentencing Commission, which works to “reduce sentencing disparities.”
They will also raise rulings they say were too lenient in a bid to frame Biden — via his nominee — as soft on crime ahead of November’s midterm elections.
“It will be a respectful, deep dive into her record, which I think is entirely appropriate for a lifetime appointment,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CBS on Sunday.
High-profile confirmation hearings always present an opportunity for grandstanding by presidential hopefuls so observers are expecting headline-grabbing moments from the likes of Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton.
Hawley has already suggested that Jackson has a pattern of “letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes,” a charge angrily denied by Democratic leadership and the White House.
During an interview Sunday with ABC, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin noted that Jackson has already been confirmed by the upper chamber of Congress three times, and she “came through with flying colors and bipartisan support.”
Monday’s hearing will begin with the 22 members of the Judiciary Committee speaking for about 10 minutes each on Jackson’s nomination.
The pair formally introducing the nominee — retired Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith and Lisa Fairfax, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania — will speak for up to five minutes each.
This will be followed by a 10-minute opening statement from Jackson herself.
Senators will have time to question the nominee on Tuesday and Wednesday for up to 50 minutes each.
Thursday’s hearing includes outside witnesses speaking to her qualifications, including the American Bar Association, which unanimously gave Jackson its highest rating, “well qualified,” to serve on the Supreme Court.