WASHINGTON — The second day of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings focused as much on broad political grievances and the culture wars as it did on Jackson as an individual.
Topics ranging from Sept. 11 to racist babies were invoked by Republicans as they attempted to tie Jackson to left-wing activist movements, while Democrats lauded her as a fair-minded and impartial judge.
Sen. Ted Cruz asked Jackson about the New York Times’ 1619 Project before launching into an extended session about critical race theory and which books are taught to children in K–12 schools. At one point he read several passages from children’s books and asked Jackson if she believes babies are racist. (She said no.)
The basis for Cruz’s questions was Jackson serving on the board of trustees for the Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. Jackson said her role did not control the curriculum and seemed perplexed by the entire line of questioning.
“I have not reviewed any of those books,” said Jackson. “They don’t come up in my work as a judge, which I’m, respectfully, here to address.”
A main line of Republican inquiry involved Jackson’s sentences of people convicted of possessing child sex abuse images. At one point, Cruz read aloud from a printed sign containing a Jackson quote in bold font discussing “less-serious" offenders. Jackson responded that, as the sign itself showed, the quote was a question to a witness, not a statement of her beliefs.
Jackson spent much of Tuesday pushing back against charges of being soft in sentencing people convicted of possessing child sex abuse images. “These crimes are horrible. I take them very seriously,” she said.
Republicans and Democrats alike questioned Jackson about her judicial philosophy. A key exchange happened early in the hearing when Jackson was asked about her ideology and responded, “I have a methodology.”
Jackson vowed to serve as an impartial and “even-handed justice” if confirmed, and said her judicial philosophy is defined by being an impartial judge who adheres to the limits of the court’s jurisdiction.
“I’ve been serving in the District of Columbia, with some of the most politically contentious issues. My record demonstrates my impartiality,” she said.
Jackson said her background as a public defender — a rarity among Supreme Court nominees — gave her a helpful perspective as a judge that did not affect her rulings but did make her determined to ensure defendants understood what was happening in her trials.
Republicans questioned Jackson on her work defending Guantanamo Bay detainees and writing briefs for third parties advocating that indefinite detention of detainees is unlawful.
“Federal public defenders don’t get to pick their clients,” said Jackson. “It’s a service. That’s what you do as a federal public defender. You are standing up for the constitutional value of representation.”
Jackson’s hearing served as a proxy platform for long-running political feuds. Sen. Lindsey Graham at one point asked Jackson how religious she is on a scale of 1 to 10. The question was a launching pad to condemn Democrats who had previously asked Justice Amy Coney Barrett about her faith.
Graham also raised concerns about left-wing dark money groups endorsing Jackson’s nomination. This sparked Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse to respond with a speech outlining the roles of right-wing dark money groups in the previous three Republican nominations to the Supreme Court.