WASHINGTON – After meeting privately with almost half the members of the Senate, it's time for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson to testify publicly this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If confirmed, as is expected, she would be the first Black woman to sit on the high court in its more than 200-year history.
Democrats and President Joe Biden are hoping to win Republican votes for Jackson after three contentious and divisive nomination fights during President Donald Trump’s administration. But it's unclear so far whether she will have any GOP support.
Several Republicans who met with Jackson praised her legal acumen, broad experience and engaging, empathetic demeanor. But some Republicans on the committee, especially those who might run for president in 2024, are expected to aggressively criticize her record. Jackson was a public defender, a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and a federal district court judge before she was confirmed as an appellate judge last year.
Jackson was nominated to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced in January that he will retire at the end of the high court’s session this summer.
What to watch as Jackson’s hearings start Monday:
FOUR DAYS OF HEARINGS
Similar to past practice, the committee will examine Jackson’s record over four days. She will give an opening statement on Monday, and members of the committee will give their opening remarks. She won’t face questioning until Tuesday and Wednesday, when the 22 committee members will each have 30 minutes to question her. If there is a second round of questioning, they will have 20 minutes each.
Jackson won’t be in the hearing room on Thursday, when legal experts and representatives of the American Bar Association testify on her legal record.
After the hearings conclude, the committee will vote on sending her nomination to the full Senate. Democrats hope to confirm Jackson by April 8, when they leave Washington for a two-week spring recess.
FIRST BLACK WOMAN
The court was made up entirely of white men for almost two centuries. Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Thurgood Marshall are the only two Black men who have been justices — confirmed in 1991 and 1967, respectively. There has never been a Black woman on the court.
Biden pledged during his 2020 campaign that he would nominate a Black woman to the court if he had the chance. Some Republicans criticized that pledge, saying it was “offensive” or akin to affirmative action.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he doesn’t have a problem with Biden’s pledge. He has signaled to his conference to focus on topics other than Jackson’s race.
Democrats can confirm Jackson without any Republican support because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tiebreaking vote in the 50-50 Senate. Democrats are still lobbying Republicans they think are open to voting for Jackson in hopes that she will be able to be seated on the court with some bipartisan backing.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins is the most likely Republican to support her, suggesting after a 90-minute meeting this month that she was inclined to vote yes on confirmation. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined Collins in voting to confirm Jackson to the appeals court last year, but both have indicated that they may not vote for her this time.
It’s unlikely that any other Republicans will vote for Jackson, though most say they are waiting until after the hearings to decide.
GOP LINES OF ATTACK
Republicans who have met with Jackson have given varied reasons that they might not vote for her. They have cited her representation of Guantanamo Bay detainees as a public defender more than a decade ago, the liberal advocacy groups that support her and broad arguments that she may be “soft on crime” because of her record as a public defender.
The most pointed criticism so far has come from Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who posted a lengthy Twitter thread Wednesday evening that charged her with being soft on pedophiles in her time at the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Democrats and the White House pushed back strongly on his arguments, claiming they were cherry-picked and void of context.
Many Republicans have been muted in their criticism of Jackson, preferring to focus on other election-year issues like inflation. But Hawley and GOP Sens, Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, all committee members, are considering runs for the presidency in 2024 and may try and burnish their conservative credentials by attacking Jackson’s record.
Like Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate hearings in October 2020, some health precautions will be taken in the committee room. Senators will be spaced out from each other and the general public will not be allowed in.
While the safety measures are to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amid a spate of recent cases in the Capitol, they will also serve the purpose of keeping protesters out. Angry protesters flooded the Senate hallways during the 2017 and 2018 confirmations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, but the public is just beginning to return to the Capitol for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.
Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko and Mark Sherman contributed to this report.