If appointed, Ketanji Brown Jackson would become the first black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Her prolific law career spans over 25 years. / Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Recently, Supreme Court Justice Breyer announced his plans for retirement, with Joe Biden’s nominee for the position being Ketanji Brown Jackson, a long time Floridian who is back in her birth city, Washington D.C.. Currently serving in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Judge Jackson also has experience in public defense, and worked as a judge for the U.S. District Court for D.C., one of President Biden’s first judicial candidates. She also worked towards reducing sentencing disparities as Vice Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, as appointed by then-president, Barack Obama. She even started out her law career as a law clerk under Justice Breyer, who she will be replacing if appointed.
Any Supreme Court nominee goes through a rigorous process of being shaken down by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which normally would be fair enough for someone who will potentially decide the outcomes of the most high-stakes cases in the country. This said, the way that Ketanji Brown Jackson has been treated in this process has been unfair to say the least, especially when we consider the recent hearings of Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh.
Most notable was the line of questioning by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who apparently attended Harvard Law School at the same time as Jackson, and they worked together on the Harvard Law Review, as Cruz said in his opening remarks during his part of the hearing.
Cruz used a conversation from all those years ago as a ham-handed segue into the topic of race, which may have been fair for the process, but the way Ted Cruz went about his questions was not appropriate for the situation. For example, Cruz asked her to explain her understanding of Critical Race Theory, which she did, but she was careful to note that she is not a student of this theory and that it was really not relevant to her work as a judge.
This lack of relevance in questions to her work as a judge became a common theme during her conversation with Senator Cruz, as he continued to ask questions about her opinions on race. The part that stuck out to me was when he waved around race-related books from the reading lists given to children at the school where Jackson is a board member. Cruz brought out passages that he knew would be inflammatory, and asked if she “agreed” with the claims in these passages. While the claims in question were not altogether that radical, everyone in that room knew that giving consideration to ideas like Critical Race Theory would ruin Jackson’s image and ruin her chances of getting any Republican votes.
Fortunately, Jackson was able to handle these questions carefully, and pointed out that not only was the board at the school in question not responsible for curriculum or book lists, but her knowledge of the common core and Critical Race Theory are, you guessed it, not relevant to her work as a judge.
There was later some discussion about patterns in Jackson’s judgements where she gave sex offenders, particularly those charged with child pornography related crimes, less time in jail than the congressional recommendations and requirements.
Cruz also presented a quote from a piece Jackson did in college for the Harvard Law Review where she was analyzing the categorization of certain laws regarding sex offenders, as those laws were very new at the time. The senator tried to use this piece to prove that Jackson thought registration and mandated notification for sex offenders was unconstitutional. These examples could have been talking points, if he had not been so accusatory, and if he had not already clearly decided what he believed the quotes meant regardless of Jackson’s clarification and contextualization.
Finally, Committee Chair Dick Durbin called for Cruz to play by the rules, and attempted to move the hearing along to the next scheduled member for questions, Cruz became impassioned, disregarded the chairman’s request, and screamed about how Durbin didn’t want the American people to hear the answer to one of his questions about her apparently relaxed sentencing policy in cases of child pornography. This outburst was completely inappropriate for a senator during a confirmation hearing, if ever at all.
Altogether, it is fair to say that Cruz’s questioning of Judge Jackson was full of gross misquotations, attempted trappings, irrelevant topics, and even more bologna, adding up to treatment that was both unsurprising and shockingly bold.
When we hold this hearing up against those of Justices Kavanaugh and Coney Barrett, we can see that the standards are far from the same.
While Jackson is being grilled on her theories about race and colonialism all the way back to slave times, and had to keep her cool despite Senator Cruz being obviously biased and unprofessional, footage from the Kavanaugh hearing was a painful montage of adult man Brett Kavanaugh sobbing at the thought of being held accountable for his actions. Whether or not Kavanaugh actually assaulted his classmate all those years ago or not, his behavior was far from fitting for a Supreme Court Justice, and his confirmation in the role, despite his clear sympathy for rapists, would be unbelievable if it had not happened a thousand times before and a thousand times since.
We can also compare Judge Jackson’s hearing to that of Amy Coney Barrett, a last minute nomination after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who Donald Trump rushed into the position in his last moments in office. Prior to her 2017 appointment to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals by Donald Trump, Coney Barrett was not much more than a law professor, and the three years she spent there before her 2020 nomination for Supreme Court Justice were the only actual experience she had serving in a judicial body.
I won’t bore you with the details, but Amy Coney Barrett was never a lawyer, and has hardly been a judge. The fact that she made it to the Supreme Court is a miscarriage of justice, pun intended.
This clear difference in standards did not go unnoticed by the committee. Cory Booker has spoken about the hearing, and says that Jackson’s treatment showcases a kind of pain that so many Americans are intimately familiar with.
“I got a chance to witness firsthand what I think many people in America can relate to, is when you show up in a room qualified, when you show up in a room with extraordinary expertise and credentials, there are a lot of Americans who know that hurt, that you are still going to be treated in a way that does not respect to you fully,” Booker told CNN.
Booker shied away from the claim that racism was present in the room of Republican senators, and instead said that her poor treatment was more related to her identity as a woman.
Altogether, when we look at the ways Republican justices like Coney Barrett and Kavanaugh have been treated in the leadup to their confirmations, we see them getting away with displaying below the bare minimum of requirements and absolutely abhorrent conduct. It is clear to me that the idea of appointing Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court is frightening to the committee, seeing as she will be the first Black woman to hold this position in American history if she is voted in.
I believe that the Republican committee members like Ted Cruz are trying to manipulate evidence to make Judge Jackson look uninformed, immoral, and radical. I hope that Jackson’s experience and level head are enough to overshadow the dirty image those like Cruz are working so hard to paint of her.