By Nyah Marshall
Howard University News Service
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson persevered through the fourth and final day of her U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings, as she endured contentious debate from Republicans over former sentencing records. Several Democratic senators, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, cut through the attacks particularly on Day 3 by applauding Jackson for her grace and reminding the packed room of her extensive qualifications.
Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, expressed similar sentiments today as the hearings closed, noting that Jackson’s appointment to the high court would shatter glass ceilings.
Sen. Cory Booker, a Black Democrat from New Jersey, drew tears from Jackson on Wednesday and shed some himself, during his speech, which provided a break from the tense line of questioning GOP senators chose to pursue.
“They’re gonna accuse you of this and that. Heck, in honor of the person who shares your birthday, you might be called the communist,” Booker began. “But don’t worry, my sister. Don’t worry. God has got you. And how do I know that? Because you’re here, and I know what it’s taken for you to sit in that seat.”
“I’m sorry,” Booker continued. “You’re a person that is so much more than your race and gender. You’re a Christian. You’re a mom. It’s hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom. I see my ancestors and yours.”
As Booker noted, much of the questioning by several GOP senators has been dominated by her rulings in child pornography cases during her time as a federal district judge.
During the first hearing, Sen. Marsha Blackburn argued that Jackson is “soft on crime” and has “a consistent pattern of giving child porn offenders lighter sentences.”
Continuing these accusations on Wednesday, Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz displayed a chart of eight child abuse cases Jackson heard and their sentencing records, telling Jackson that he was “going to give you an opportunity to discuss each and every case you’ve had.”
Having been asked about the cases before and with Cruz repeatedly talking over her, Jackson replied as best as she could.
“I’ve taken every case seriously,” Jackson responded. “These are very horrible crimes, as was that one. And as a mother, having to look at these pictures, having to follow Congress’ directive, having to listen to recommendations like the government in that case, which argued for 16 months, I imposed the sentence that I believed was the sentence that was required by law.”
As Cruz continued to pursue the line of questioning, going over his allotted time, Chairman Durbin intervened, telling him “you have to follow the rules.”
Cruz also argued that the probation reports of these cases weren’t made public and provided to Republican staff. Durbin pointed out that the reports were made available to both parties. The White House also provided factcheck.org with this information upon request.
Regarding the matter and echoing the frustration of many senators in the room, Sen. Patrick Leahy stated, “I know the junior senator from Texas likes to get on television, but most of us have been here a long time trying to follow the rules.” Leahy, a Democratic senator from Vermont and the longest-serving member on the committee with 47 years of service.
It was not much later when Sen. Josh Hawley tried to press the issue again, repeatedly asking if Jackson regretted a three-month sentence that she gave in one of the cases
“What I regret is that in a hearing about my qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences,” Jackson told Hawley after he asked multiple times if she regretted it.
After being asked why she never enhanced the sentences on these child abuse cases and as Hawley elaborated on the graphic nature of these cases, Jackson calmly replied:
“No one case can stand in for my entire record of how I deal with criminal cases or did when I was a district judge. I have law enforcement in my family. I am a mother, who has daughters, who took these cases home with me at night because they are so graphic. … So, I am fully aware of the seriousness of this offense, and also my obligation to take into account all of the various aspects of the crime as Congress has required me to do.”
In fact, much of the arguments presented by members of the GOP like Cruz and Hawley were false and fueled by partisan disputes, as reported by factcheck.org. Jackson’s sentences in five of the seven cases mentioned by Hawley were consistent with, or above, the probation’s recommendation, the non-partisan fact-checking organization discovered. In only two were Jackson’s sentences below the government and probation’s recommendations.
As Booker stated in his speech, the National Review, a conservative magazine, even called the claims that Jackson is soft on child pornography offenders “meritless to the point of demagoguery.”
The Black Women’s Leadership Collective was among the organizations that applauded Jackson’s historic appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee and her ability to remain dignified during repeated accusations. The judge’s supporters called on the Senate to approve Jackson as the next associate justice when it is scheduled to vote on April 4.
“Judge Brown Jackson faced distortions of her record, attacks, hostility, and downright rudeness from Senate Republicans, who should be ashamed of their actions during these proceedings,” the collective said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The interruptions, barely coded dog whistles and disrespect mirrored the lived experience of Black women in America and serve as a reminder why representation matters and why Judge Jackson’s historic nomination is an inspiration.”
Many legal expert, including Alice Thomas, a law professor at Howard University, believe Jackson will be confirmed, but it will take some extra effort and Republican support.
“Well, well, here’s my concern about the vote,” Thomas said. “They need all the Democrats to vote, right. And I’m very concerned about what Senator (Joe) Manchin and (Kyrsten) Sinema might do, because they always play the game. So, I think they’re going to need some Republican, at least one or two Republicans, to come with them.”
Sen. Alex Padillo gave a sentimental account of his own history during his time to question Jackson. He is a proud son of immigrants with parents who came to the U.S. from Mexico.
Speaking on behalf of the youth in South San Francisco, and across the country, he asked Jackson what she would say to those young Americans, “the most diverse generation in our nation’s history.”
“What do you say to some of them who may doubt that they can one day achieve the same great heights that you have?” Padillo said.
Tearing up, Jackson replied by telling a story about her first year at Harvard University, which she had visited only once with the debate coach from her high school in Miami for a speech competition:
“It was rough. It was different from anything I’d known. There were lots of students there who were prep school kids, like my husband, who knew all about Harvard. And that was not me. And I think the first semester I was really homesick, I was really questioning. ‘Do I belong here? Can I make it in this environment?’ And I was walking through the yard in the evening. And a Black woman I did not know was passing me on the sidewalk. And she looked at me and I guess she knew how I was feeling when she leaned over as we crossed and said, ‘Persevere.’ I would tell them to persevere.”
Nyah Marshall is a reporter and regional bureau chief for HUNewsService.com.