WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson began Monday with smiles, praise, congratulations, and an allegation that she is too soft on child predators.
The mostly friendly opening day was a chance for Jackson to address the Senate for the first time, and for senators to test run their lines of attack and defense that will dominate the rest of the week.
Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced Jackson as a champion of the rule of law with a long record of excellence and integrity. Many Democrats highlighted the historic significance of Jackson being the first Black woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court.
“The reality is the court’s members, in one respect, have never really reflected the nation they served,” Durbin said. “In its more than 230 years, the Supreme Court has had 115 justices — 108 have been white men, just two justices have been men of color, only five women have served on the court and just one a woman of color.”
Jackson told senators that, if confirmed, she will defend the Constitution and take an impartial, apolitical approach to the job.
“I decide cases from a neutral posture. I evaluate the facts and I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the cases before me without fear or favor, and consistent with my judicial oath,” she said.
Hanging over the hearings are the bitter confirmation battles of the three Supreme Court nominees by President Donald Trump, in particular the nomination of and sexual assault accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. Several Republicans brought up the Kavanaugh hearings to argue that Democrats had treated their party’s nominees unfairly.
But Jackson’s confirmation started off — mostly — with a friendlier vibe. A number of Republicans praised Jackson for her skill and inspiring story of rising through the judicial ranks from defense attorney to district judge to circuit judge. They also raised a range of potential concerns, from Jackson’s past comments to progressive advocacy groups backing her nomination.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley made headlines Sunday by writing a Twitter thread accusing Jackson of being overly lenient in sentencing people convicted of possessing child sex abuse images. The thread sparked vigorous rebuttal and debunking by the likes of CNN, the Washington Post, and the conservative National Review, which called the thread “meritless to the point of demagoguery.”
Hawley repeated his argument during opening remarks on Monday while also seeming highly aware of the backlash. He said he made his comments on Twitter so as not to surprise Jackson, who took notes as Hawley read through a list of cases. The senator called the nominee “enormously thoughtful” and said he expects her to be able to explain her judicial philosophy. That won’t come until later in the week, when senators have a chance to question Jackson directly.
The most aggressive speech by far came from Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, who invoked trans children competing in sports, critical race theory, and The 1619 Project while accusing Jackson of being a judicial activist with a secret agenda to indoctrinate children and free violent criminals.
Blackburn then ended her speech by congratulating Jackson for her inspiring story. “You and your family should be incredibly proud,” Blackburn said.
Democrats jumped to argue against assumed future attacks that Jackson is soft on crime. Both sides also expressed that they hoped this confirmation process is less contentious than the previous three. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy called Jackson an “unassailable nominee” who “can bring us back together again.”
The hearings continue Tuesday with senators getting their first chance to publicly question Jackson.