Five key moments from Ketanji Brown Jackson’s hearing – and what they say about her confirmation

From Josh Hawley’s questioning of her sentencing to Cory Booker’s stirring defence

Eric Garcia
Friday 25 March 2022 13:56 GMT
‘Today, you are my star’: Booker moves Ketanji Brown Jackson to tears during Senate's tribute

The Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson officially ended after a marathon question-and-answer session during which Republicans viciously attacked the judge’s sentencing record.

While not as vicious as Justices Clarence Thomas or Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings – wherein the men were accused of sexual misconduct – or the hearings of Justice Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett, which exposed raw feelings about the timing in which they were confirmed, Ms Jackson’s hearing saw senators often turning outright hostile.

Now, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its vote on to confirm Ms Jackson to fill retiring Justice Stephen Breyer’s seat on the Supreme Court. She’s expected to be confirmed, but it remains to be seen how much, if any, Republican support she will receive.

Here are five moments that stood out from the multi-day hearings.

Lindsey Graham’s hard feelings about Kavanaugh hearings

Lindsey Graham questions Ketanji Brown Jackson about Brett Kavanaugh hearings

Throughout the hearing, Sen Lindsey Graham – and other Republicans – expressed their anger about the way Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was treated during his 2018 confirmation hearing, when Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexually assaulting her when they were classmates. Mr Graham – who had previously voted to confirm liberal justices like Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, as well as Ms Jackson for her previous judicial appointment last year – famously gave a speech excoriating Democrats during Ms Ford’s testimony.

On Wednesday, it was clear those raw feelings had not dissipated and Mr Graham went over his allotted time to rehash his grievances.

“Some people on the other side had an accusation against Judge Kavanaugh, that during high school, he sexually assaulted somebody and the rest is history. That was known to the people on the other side and never revealed during the meetings they had with Judge Kavanaugh,” he said. “How would you feel if we did that to you?”

In response, Mr Graham told Ms Jackson that if he had information about her, that he would share it with her.

“I would not disclose it at the last minute at the last day of the hearing and I’ve already given it to a newspaper,” he said. In response, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said that she had nothing to do with Mr Kavanaugh’s hearing.

“No, but I’m asking her what she may feel about what y’all did,” he said.

Josh Hawley repeatedly asks Jackson about child sex abuse images

Josh Hawley
Josh Hawley (Getty Images)

Last week, before the hearings even began, Sen Josh Hawley, the youngest Republican on the committee and a former Missouri attorney general, previewed his intentions on the committee when he tweeted a thread questioning whether Ms Jackson’s rulings were too lenient toward child sex image offenders. In between that time, as Mr Durbin noted, multiple news outlets from ABC News to The Washington Post to the conservative National Review debunked Mr Hawley’s claims.

Still, Mr Hawley proceeded with the line of questioning starting in earnest on Tuesday evening when he went into vivid detail about the case of Wesley Hawkins, a then-18-year-old man convicted of possessing multiple child sex abuse images, and the images that he viewed. He then noted how Ms Jackson sentenced Mr Hawkins to three months.

“I just want to ask you about that because I just have to tell (you) I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it,” the senator said. In response, Ms Jackson spoke about how the US Sentencing Commission, on which she served, has focused on sentencing disparities and that the sentences the senator referenced were being departed from.

“That the guidelines in this area are not doing the work of differentiating defendants as the government itself indicated in this very case,” she said. Mr Hawley continued with the line of questioning on Wednesday, despite asking about it the day before.

“That's my answer. I've answered it many times. Do you have other questions for me?” she responded.

Ted Cruz plays for the camera – and Twitter

(Getty Images)

Mr Hawley was not the only would-be presidential aspirant who went out of his way to create spectacle during the questioning. Sen Ted Cruz of Texas, who has hinted he might run in 2024 and came in second in 2016, frequently made outsized plays for the camera. He grilled the judge about whether she subscribed to critical race theory and showed an image from Ibram Kendi’s book Antiracist Baby to ask if she believed babies are racist.

“I do not believe that any child should be made to feel as though they are racist or as though they are not valued or that they are less than, that they are victims, that they are oppressors. I don’t believe in any of that,” she said.

On the second full day of questioning, Mr Cruz took a similar track as Mr Hawley and requested to introduce a letter on behalf of 10 other Republican senators seeking pre-sentencing reports for Ms Jackson’s cases regarding child sex abuse images. The spectacle resulted in Sen Patrick Leahy of chastising Mr Cruz by saying, “I know the junior senator from Texas likes to be on television.” Mr Cruz did appear on Fox News later in the evening.

After his contentious exchange with Mr Durbin, some reporters noticed that Mr Cruz was checking his name on Twitter on his phone.

Republican Sen Ben Sasse of Nebraska took a not-so-subtle swipe at Mr Cruz when talking about why the Supreme Court shouldn’t have cameras. “I think we should recognise that the jacka**ery we often see around here is partly because of people mugging for short-term camera opportunities.”

Marsha Blackburn asks for the definition of a woman

(Getty Images)

Similar to how Sen Ted Cruz hoped to paint Ms Jackson as extreme on race, Sen Marsha Blackburn of Tenneessee hoped to paint the judge as extreme on gender. Republican governors nationwide in places like Iowa, Florida and South Dakota have passed legislation restricting transgender athletes from participating in sports in line with their gender identity.

In turn, Ms Blackburn asked Ms Blackburn how she would define a woman. When Ms Jackson said she couldn’t, Ms Blackburn said “you can’t?”

“Not in this context. I’m not a biologist,” Ms Jackson said.

Ms Blackburn made it a point in her opening remarks on Monday to discuss Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer who who won the women’s 500-yard freestyle last week. Ms Blackburn called Ms Thomas a “biological male”.

“Educators are allowing biological males to steal opportunities from female athletes in the name of progressivism,” she said during her opening statements on Monday. “Some girls have been forced to share locker rooms with biological males. Rather than defending our girls, those in power are teaching them their voices don’t matter. They’re being treated like second-class citizens.”

Cory Booker brings the room to tears

‘Today, you are my star’: Booker moves Ketanji Brown Jackson to tears during Senate's tribute

Kamala Harris’ ascent to the vice presidency left the Senate Judiciary Committee – and the Senate as a whole – without a single Black woman. In turn, Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who had previously expressed joy about Ms Jackson’s nomination, became her chief apologist. On Wednesday, after a particularly difficult day of questioning, he sought to lower the volume by delivering a fierce defence of the judge and talked about the historic nature of her being the first Black woman to face a confirmation hearing for the US Supreme Court.

He noted how she was more than just her race and gender.

“You’re a Christian, you’re a mom. You’re an intellect, you love books,” he said. “But for me, I’m sorry. It’s hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom. Not to see my cousins.” Mr Booker said that his cousin came to be in the room to watch the hearing.

“She had to have your back,” he said. “I see my ancestors and yours.”

Mr Booker spoke about a Black woman he saw jogging who was proud of her and people texting him about the nomination.

“Nobody’s going to steal that joy,” he said. “You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.”

When he mentioned the hard work it took for Black women like her to get to the place where she was, Ms Jackson wiped away tears.

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