After a private meeting with nearly half of the Senate members, it was time for Supreme Court candidate Ketanjie Brown Jackson to give public testimony this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If confirmed, she is expected to become the first black woman to sit in a high court in her more than 200-year history.
Democrats and President Joe Biden hope to win Republican votes for Jackson after three controversial and contentious battles for nomination during President Donald Trump’s administration. But it is unclear whether she will have any support from the Republican Party.
Several Republicans who met with Jackson praised her legal acumen, extensive experience, and attractive, compassionate behavior. But some Republicans on the committee, especially those who may run for president in 2024, are expected to aggressively criticize her reputation. Jackson was a public defender, a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and a judge of the Federal District Court before she was approved as an appellate judge last year.
Jackson has been nominated to replace Judge Stephen Breyer, who announced in January that he would resign at the end of this summer’s Supreme Court hearing.
What to watch when Jackson’s hearing begins Monday:
FOUR DAYS OF HEARING
Like previous practice, the committee will study Jackson’s record for four days. On Monday, she will deliver an introductory speech, and commission members will deliver introductory remarks. She will not be questioned until Tuesday and Wednesday, when each of the 22 committee members will have 30 minutes to question her. If there is a second round of interrogation, they will have 20 minutes each.
Jackson will not be in the courtroom on Thursday when legal experts and representatives of the American Bar Association will testify in her legal case.
Following the hearing, the committee will vote on sending her candidacy to the full Senate. Democrats hope to confirm Jackson by April 8, when they leave Washington for a two-week spring break.
THE FIRST BLACK WOMAN
The court for almost two centuries consisted entirely of white people. Judge Clarence Thomas and the late Turgud Marshall – the only two black men to be judges – were confirmed in 1991 and 1967 respectively. There was never a black woman on the court.
During his 2020 campaign, Biden promised to sue a black woman if he had the opportunity. Some Republicans have criticized the promise, saying it was “offensive” or similar to positive action.
But Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Said he had no problem with Biden’s promise. He signaled his conference to focus on topics other than the Jackson race.
Democrats can confirm Jackson without any Republican support, because Vice President Kamala Harris can vote in the Senate 50 to 50. Democrats are still lobbying Republicans who they think are ready to vote for Jackson, hoping she can sit on the court with some support from the two parties.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins is the most likely Republican to back her, suggesting that after a 90-minute meeting this month, she was inclined to vote in favor. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined Collins in a vote to confirm Jackson in the Court of Appeals last year, but both indicated they could not vote for her this time.
Other Republicans are unlikely to vote for Jackson, although most say they are waiting for a decision after the hearing.
GOP LINE OF ATTACK
Republicans who met with Jackson cited various reasons why they might not vote for her. They cited her representation of Guantanamo detainees as a public defender more than a decade ago, liberal advocacy groups supporting her, and broad arguments that she may be “soft to crime” because of her experience as a public defender.
The sharpest criticism so far has come from Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who posted a lengthy topic on Twitter Wednesday night accusing her of being lenient with pedophiles while working for the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Democrats and the White House vehemently rejected his arguments, saying they were elected and out of context.
Many Republicans have been muted in their criticism of Jackson, preferring to focus on other election year issues such as inflation. But Howley and GOP Sens, Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, all committee members, are considering running for president in 2024 and may try to bolster their conservative powers by attacking Jackson’s record.
As at the Senate hearing of Amy Coney Barrett in October 2020, some health precautions will be taken in the committee room. Senators will be distanced from each other, and the general public will not be allowed.
While security measures should prevent the spread of COVID-19 amid a number of recent cases in the Capitol, they will also serve the purpose of preventing demonstrators. Angry protesters filled the Senate corridors during the approval of Neil Gorsach and Brett Cavan in 2017 and 2018, but the public is only beginning to return to the Capitol for the first time since the January 6, 2021 pandemic and uprising.
Associated Press authors Jessica Gresco and Mark Sherman contributed to this report.
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