Ketanji Brown Jackson vows to be impartial in Supreme Court hearing

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson pledged in her opening address Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee that she would be an impartial Supreme Court judge if confirmed.

“I’ve been a judge for almost a decade and I take that responsibility and my duty to be independent very seriously,” Brown told the committee members. “I judge things from a neutral attitude. I evaluate the facts and I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me, without fear or favour, in accordance with my judicial oath.”

Jackson, 51, is currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, a position she held confirmed until last year with dual support. Her nomination by President Joe Biden is: historical: She would be the first black woman and first public defender on the Supreme Court.

Monday was the first day of Jackson’s four-day confirmation hearing.

“At this hearing, I hope you will see how much I love our country and the Constitution and the rights that set us free,” she said. “I stand on the shoulders of so many who have come before me, including Judge Constance Baker Motley, who was the first African-American woman to be appointed to the federal bench — and with whom I share a birthday.”

Jackson was joined Monday by friends and family, including her husband and two young daughters. She was introduced by Thomas Griffith, a conservative former judge on the United States Court of Appeals appointed by President George W. Bush, and Lisa Fairfax, a former college roommate at Harvard who now teaches law.

Griffith reiterated Jackson’s vow to be apolitical if confirmed, calling her “an independent lawyer who judges by the facts and the law and not as a partisan.”

Fairfax, who has been friends with Jackson for 35 years, called her “a woman of deep faith in God and an unyielding love for the family” and “the rock” for their circle of friends.

“Even though we’re the same age, she’s the role model that makes you believe in what she said, ‘You can do it, and here’s how,'” she said. “And she showed us how, through the power of her example of hard work, preparation and excellence, she turns the seemingly impossible into the achievable.”

“We knew early on that she could be anything she wanted to be,” Fairfax added, “but also that she seemed destined to become a judge because of her ability to see all sides and make fair and level-headed decisions.”

Monday’s hearing consisted mainly of pleasant introductory remarks. But from Tuesday members of the committee will ask Jackson about her track record and legal philosophy. Republicans have already signaled plans to attack her for being “soft on crime”, citing her representation of Guantanamo Bay detainees and her tenure with the US Sentencing Commission

This line of attack is part of: a wider political effort by the GOP to portray Biden’s judicial nominees as “soft on crime” ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

“These baseless allegations are unfair,” Chairman Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in his opening remarks, citing GOP allegations that Jackson has been too lenient with criminals.

sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the panel, vowed that Jackson would be treated with respect, even though he said he was concerned about her legal philosophy and some progressive groups supporting her nomination.

“We will not try to make a spectacle of this based on alleged process errors,” Grassley said.

“It won’t be a circus,” Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) added. Nevertheless, he urged Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) to pressure Jackson about her track record on sentencing guidelines for sex offenders, calling it “very fair game.”

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson listens to senators’ opening statements during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her appointment on March 21, 2022.

SAUL LOEB via Getty Images

Last week, Hawley launched a series of false and misleading attacks about Jackson claiming she was too lenient on sex offenses during her tenure on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. But Hawley failed to mention that most of Jackson’s work was supported by conservative panelists and that her recommendations fell well within the mainstream. His allegations were refuted by the White House and independent fact-checkers.

Hawley suggested Monday that despite his attacks on Jackson ahead of the hearing, he wants the hearing to be respectful and fair.

“I’m not interested in catching Judge Jackson. I’m not interested in playing gotcha,” he said in his opening speech. “I’m interested in her answers.”

Based on their opening remarks at Monday’s hearing, Republicans seem to have settled for a scattered approach to questioning Jackson — suggesting they have no clear line of attack on Biden’s candidate.

Their introductory remarks all centered around the GOP’s claims that Jackson was “soft on crime”, which: no backup is made by taking a closer look at her record; on Jackson’s backing by a progressive legal advocacy group called Demand Justice, which has nothing to do with her track record; and on the general need for courtesy and decency during the hearing.

Republicans know to be careful not to look like they’re opposed to Jackson, who would be the first black woman on the Supreme Court, for any reason other than her legal ideology. Digging sensitive questions about her criminal record for child pornography and sex crimes may not work in the Republicans’ favor.

Durbin has previously, and bluntly, accused Republicans of being unfairly hostile to black, female nominees who come before the committee. He told reporters this month that he is “very concerned” about how they will treat Jackson, noting that a previous black female nominee received death threats after particularly hostile treatment by GOP committee members.

sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.), meanwhile, urged all his colleagues to take a moment and feel “the overwhelming joy” of Jackson’s historic nomination. He is the only black member of the committee and the second black member ever. Vice President Kamala Harris was the other.

“I just want to talk about the joy,” Booker beamed. “I know that tomorrow and in the coming hearings, we’re going to have some tough, tough questions. But please let me acknowledge that this is not normal. It’s never happened before. The Senate is now ready to break through another barrier.”

He added: “It is a sign that we, as a country, continue to rise to our collective, cherished, highest ideals.”

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