The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who would be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, on Monday.
Barring a major blunder by the 51-year-old Jackson, who has served as a federal judge for the past nine years, Democrats, who have a razor-thin majority in the Senate, want to complete her confirmation before Easter.
Jackson is scheduled to make an opening statement Monday afternoon, followed by two days of questioning from the committee’s 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans. Thomas B. Griffith, a retired judge from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Lisa M. Fairfax, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, will give her an introduction.
Last year, Jackson testified before the same committee after President Joe Biden appointed her to a federal appeals court in Washington, just down the hill from the Supreme Court, to fill a vacancy.
Her testimony will provide the most comprehensive look yet at the Harvard-trained lawyer with a career that includes two years as a federal public defender for most Americans and the Senate. Since Thurgood Marshall, the first Black American to serve on the nation’s highest court, she is the first candidate with considerable criminal defense expertise.
Jackson would be the third Black justice on the Supreme Court, after Marshall and his successor, Justice Clarence Thomas, in addition to becoming the first Black woman on the court.
The American Bar Association, which assesses judicial nominations, awarded Jackson its highest grade on Friday, unanimously stating that he is “well qualified.”
The NAACP’s general counsel, Janette McCarthy Wallace, expressed her delight at the prospect of a Black woman being appointed to a high court seat.
Wallace stated, “Representation matters.” “It’s vital to have a bench with a wide range of expertise. It should reflect the country’s great cultural variety.”
Given that Jackson’s confirmation would not change the court’s 6-3 conservative majority, it’s unclear how forcefully Republicans will go after her.
Nonetheless, some Republicans have hinted that Jackson’s nomination may be used to attempt to paint Democrats as soft on crime, a topic that has emerged in GOP midterm election campaigns. Several former public defenders have been appointed to life-tenured judge positions by Biden. Jackson also served on the United States Sentencing Commission, a bipartisan commission established by Congress to eliminate disparities in federal prison terms.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., drew attention to one possible line of assault. Last week, Hawley stated on Twitter, “I’ve seen a disturbing pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s handling of sex offenders, especially those preying on children,” in a thread that was mirrored by the Republican National Committee. When Hawley questioned Jackson last year before voting against her appeals court nomination, he did not bring up the subject.
The White House slammed the critique, calling it “toxic and poorly presented falsehoods.” Jackson’s record suggests she is suspicious of the range of jail terms recommended for child pornography cases, according to Douglas Berman, an Ohio State law professor. “But so were prosecutors in the majority of her cases, and so are district judges nationally,” Berman said on his blog.
Along with Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Hawley is one of several committee Republicans who are considering running for president in 2024, and their ambitions may clash with those of other Republicans who would rather not take a hard line on Jackson’s nomination.
In February, Biden announced his choice for Jackson, fulfilling a campaign promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court for the first nominee in American history. Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced in January that he will retire this summer after 28 years on the bench, would be replaced.
Early in her legal career, Jackson served as a high court law clerk for Breyer.
Even though Breyer’s seat will not technically open until the summer, Democrats are working rapidly to confirm Jackson. They have no votes to spare in a 50-50 Senate, which they control thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote.
They are not, however, moving as quickly as Republicans did when they appointed Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court just over a month after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and just days before the 2020 presidential election.
Barrett, the third of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, solidified the conservative majority on the court when she replaced liberal Ginsburg.
Jackson was confirmed by the Senate last year by a vote of 53-44, with three Republicans voting in her favor. It’s unclear how many Republicans will support her this time around.
Jackson is married to a surgeon in Washington, Patrick Johnson. Their two girls, one in college and the other in high school, are their only children. She is married to Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives from Wisconsin, who was also the Republican vice presidential contender in 2012. Ryan has expressed his support for Jackson’s candidacy.
Even though she has been a judge since 2013, Jackson has remarked about how her children have kept her grounded. “People listen and typically obey what I tell them to do” in the courtroom, she told an audience in Athens, Georgia, in 2017.
Her girls, on the other hand, “make it very obvious that I know nothing and that I should not tell them anything, much less give them any commands,” Jackson added.