Who and what to watch at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing

Graham is a bellwether. Hawley and Cruz will be the fiercest attackers. Jon Ossoff’s first confirmation.

Eric Garcia
Monday 21 March 2022 13:56 GMT
Watch live as Biden speaks about nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
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The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin its hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation to the Supreme Court this week.

On one end, the confirmation should be completely low stakes. Ms Jackson seeks to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, for whom she previously clerked, which means that it would not change the ideological makeup of the court. Democrats are almost guaranteed to confirm her thanks to the fact there is no filibuster. Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, often the Democrats who derail the rest of the caucus's agenda, seem mostly on board.

But this is still the Senate and in recent days, some Republicans have latched onto accusing Ms Jackson of being too lenient toward child sex offenders. Other Republicans have indicated objections to the very idea of Joe Biden's campaign promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. Here are three Republicans and two Democrats to watch.

Lindsey Graham

Before Jackson's nomination, Graham seemed to be the most amenable Republican to likely vote for a Black woman. He didn't raise the same objections his Republican colleagues did. He lobbied heavily for Biden to nominate J Michelle Childs, a judge from his native South Carolina and lamented left-wing attacks on Childs.

He added about Jackson, a double-graduate of Harvard, "I expect a respectful but interesting hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court continues to run unabated."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) lobbied heavily for Biden to nominate J Michelle Childs, a judge from his native South Carolina (Getty Images)

At the same time, Graham, a former Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman who presided over Amy Coney Barrett's nomination, has been deferential to Democratic judicial nominations. He voted to confirm Jackson to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and for Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan when Barack Obama nominated them.

If Graham gives his imprimatur, it will likely lead to non-committee Republican Sens Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska--who both voted to confirm Jackson for her current job last year--to vote "yes."

Josh Hawley

The Missouri freshman and firebrand - best known for pushing the plan to object to the 2020 presidential election results and pumping his fist toward protesters on January 6 before Trump supporters breached the Capitol - created the most recent line of attack on Jackson's record. Last week, he tweeted that "has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes."

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted that Jackson “has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes” (Getty Images)

Multiple news outlets have debunked Mr Hawley's accusations but it has become a line of attack even fellow Judiciary Committee member Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee has repeated. While Mr Hawley, a former state attorney general, has hefty legal credentials - he's a graduate of Yale Law School, clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts - it's unclear if other Republicans will take his hardline stance. But expect it to circulate in right-wing media, especially given Mr Hawley’s frequent appearances on Fox News.

Ted Cruz

The Texas Republican, who followed suit shortly after Mr Hawley announced that he would object to the 2020 election, also has one of the thickest legal resumes. Before he ran for Senate in 2012, he served as Texas's solicitor general and has argued nine cases before the Supreme Court and is a graduate of Harvard Law School.

He's aggressively questioned Biden's judicial nominations. Last month, he grilled Nina Morrison, a nominee to serve United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, for her work with the Innocence Project trying to overturn wrongful convictions. Cruz will likely use this line of attack against Ms Jackson, a former public defender who also represented detainees at Guantanamo Bay, to convince his colleagues to hold the line against her and not give Biden a win.

Jon Ossoff

The Georgia freshman Democrat who pulled off a miracle to win a runoff race is the youngest member of the committee. Unlike others, Mr Ossoff, 35, does not have a law degree and hasn't voted on a Supreme Court nomination. Like his fellow Georgia Democratic Sen Raphael Warnock, he's made voting rights a signature plank of his work on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He and Mr Warnock have an advisory committee including civil rights activists to guide them on lower court nominations so it is likely questions from that committee will pop up.

Cory Booker

The New Jersey Democrat and Yale Law School graduate is the only Black member of the Senate Judiciary Committee as Ms Jackson sits before the committee to become the first Black woman to serve on the high court. The committee’s other Black member, Kamala Harris, who asked some of the most pointed questions of Donald Trump’s nominees such as Brett Kavanaugh, left the Senate to become vice president.

Mr Booker - who released emails by Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing, thereby breaking Senate rules - will likely take a more conciliatory tone with Ms Jackson. He’ll likely serve as her chief apologist during the hearings, ask her questions about police reform - which he failed to reach a deal with Republican Sen Tim Scott on - as well as other criminal justice matters.

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