Even Republicans acknowledge President Joe Biden’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, appears to be on a glide path to confirmation.
That doesn’t mean her Senate Judiciary Committee hearings that start Monday will be without bumps, sudden turns and high-flown presidential politicking.
For millions of Americans, the four-day spectacle will be an introduction to Jackson, a Harvard-educated federal appeals court judge and the first Black woman named to the Supreme Court. The hearings will be an examination of her record and an effort to predict what kind of justice she would be if confirmed for a lifetime appointment on a court that is wrestling with issues such as abortion, voting rights, guns and climate change.
In the days leading up to the hearing, Republicans slammed Jackson’s work as a federal public defender, including her advocacy for a Guantanamo Bay detainee. The Republican National Committee accused her of “defending terrorists” in a background document sent to journalists shortly after she was named for the job.
The criticism is based on Jackson’s representation of Khi Ali Gul, an Afghan man held at the U.S. detention facility for enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. She came to the case after a landmark Supreme Court ruling allowed federal courts to consider habeas corpus petitions in which the alleged terrorists challenged the legality of their detentions. A.J. Kramer, the U.S. public defender for the District of Columbia then and now, told USA TODAY he assigned the case to Jackson because she was “a very bright lawyer.”
Gul’s appeal was bogged down in the federal court system, and Jackson withdrew in late 2008 before its resolution. The Obama administration released him in 2014.
A new line of attack emerged last week guaranteed to come up at the hearing: Jackson critics said that as a U.S. District Court judge, she was soft on child pornography offenses.
A series of tweets by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., highlighted seven cases in which Jackson imposed sentences for offenders who possessed child pornography that were lower than what guidelines set by the U.S. Sentencing Commission call for.
Experts said Hawley’s assertions miss important context, including that the majority of child pornography offenders in cases where a defendant did not produce the material receive sentences below federal guidelines. Other judges, including one nominated by a Republican president, have questioned the guidelines in open court.
Hawley and other Republicans said it underscores what they view as another important issue: a request for additional documents from Jackson’s tenure on the Sentencing Commission from 2010 to 2014. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, requested those documents, but they are unlikely to make their way to the committee before the confirmation hearings.
Grassley said Friday that Jackson’s record “raises legitimate questions about her views on penalties for these crimes” and that’s part of the reason he seeks the records.
“These are not personal attacks on Judge Jackson. This is her public record,” said Mike Davis, president of the Article III Project, a group that strategizes with Republicans on judicial confirmations. “This is important … because it shows that Judge Jackson is outside the judicial mainstream on key issues.”
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