Senate Democrats are defending Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s nominee to become the first Black woman on the US Supreme Court, from Republican attacks painting her as a liberal activist in confirmation hearings.
Jackson faces more questioning by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee after a marathon session on Tuesday during which Republicans pursued a series of hostile questions.
Jackson rejected Republican accusations that she was improperly lenient as a judge in sentencing child pornography offenders and criticism of her legal representation earlier in her career of some detainees at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Republican senators also have tried to link Jackson to activist groups on the left and to “critical race theory,” which argues American history and institutions are infused with racial bias.
Jackson has served since last year as a federal appellate judge after eight years as a federal district court judge. She pledged to be an independent jurist who would not inject her own views into rulings.
Democratic Senator Chris Coons pointed out on Tuesday that Jackson in a 2016 case ruled in favour of the Republican National Committee, which now is calling her a “radical left-wing activist.”
In that case, Jackson ruled that a federal agency had to release emails relating to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The ruling came shortly before the Democratic convention where Clinton was named her party’s presidential nominee to run against Republican Donald Trump.
“In this case you reinforced your deserved reputation for following the law, not a partisan agenda,” Coons said.
In another case cited by Coons, Jackson in 2019 dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Centre for Biological Diversity environmental group challenging construction of a section of Trump’s proposed wall along the US-Mexico border.
Her confirmation would not change the court’s ideological balance – it has a 6-3 conservative majority – but would let Biden freshen its liberal bloc with a justice young enough – age 51 – to serve for decades.
The Democratic president nominated Jackson last month to the lifetime post to succeed retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer. With a simple majority needed for confirmation and the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties, she would get the job if Democrats remain united regardless of how the Republicans vote.
All 22 members of the committee will have the chance for asking Jackson further questions on Wednesday, with outside experts testifying on Thursday’s final day.
In responding to Republican claims that she has been soft on child pornography defendants, Jackson said on Tuesday: “As a mother and a judge who has had to deal with these cases, I was thinking that nothing could be further from the truth.” In each such case, she said, “I did my duty to hold the defendants accountable.”
Sentencing experts in a March 20 letter to the committee deemed Jackson’s sentencing in such cases “squarely within the mainstream of federal district court judges nationally.”
Jackson also said her past legal representation of Guantanamo detainees was consistent with American values of fairness.
If confirmed, Jackson would be the 116th justice to serve on the high court, the sixth woman and the third Black person. With Jackson on the bench, the court for the first time would have four women and two Black justices.