People For the American Way

First Two Days of Judge Jackson Hearings Show She Clearly Belongs on the Supreme Court

News and Analysis
First Two Days of Judge Jackson Hearings Show She Clearly Belongs on the Supreme Court

Just watching the first two days of the hearing on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court proved exhausting. Imagine how she must have felt after enduring eighteen hours – thirteen on Tuesday alone! Nevertheless, Jackson was truly both brilliant and inspiring. She demonstrated her splendid qualifications for the Supreme Court.

After two more hearing days, answering numerous written questions, and votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate, she should become the first Black woman justice on the Supreme Court in our nation’s history.

Here’s a brief recap of what’s happened so far. You can watch video highlights here, and you can find our digital toolkit to get involved yourself – updating daily with hearing content – here

Day 1

Most of the first day on Monday March 21 consisted of opening statements by all 22 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both Democratic and Republican senators congratulated Jackson and her family, and recognized the historic nature of her nomination. Other than that, their statements were very different.

Democrats concentrated on Judge Jackson’s achievements and qualifications, and the inspiring nature of her nomination. “Millions of people”, Chair Dick Durbin remarked, “see themselves in you.” Senator Alex Padilla noted that Jackson’s grandparents may have found the trail blazed by her “unfathomable,” but that “her daughters and my sons and future generations will now see” it as a “natural part of the American story.”

Republicans, however, spent most of their time complaining about the alleged mistreatment of past Republican nominees, led by now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh. They previewed a scatter shot list of issues on which they expected to question and criticize Judge Jackson. Although they claimed they would be “respectful,” this was belied by Senator Marsha Blackburn, who asked Jackson rhetorically, “What’s your hidden agenda? Is it to let violent criminals, cop killers and child predators back to the streets?”

The day clearly ended on a high note. Retired D.C. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith and law professor Lisa Fairfax provided stirring introductions of the nominee. Griffith, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, explained that despite his differences with Jackson in some cases, he considers her eminently qualified to be on the Court and decried the partisanship we have seen in recent nominations. Fairfax was Jackson’s roommate in college and law school, and spoke of how Jackson served as a leader and “role model” for other Black students at Harvard.

Then Jackson herself delivered an opening statement. She movingly thanked her family and many others who have played an important role in her life. She described her career as a lawyer, including as a public defender, and a judge. And in a humble but inspiring voice, she proclaimed that she has dedicated her career to “ensuring that the words engraved on the front of the Supreme Court building, equal justice under law, are a reality.”

Day 2

Chairman Durbin opened the first round of questioning, in which each senator made statements and asked questions of Jackson for 30 minutes. In response to Durbin, Jackson explained carefully her methodology of deciding cases. She described how she carefully reviews all the briefs and written submissions and the factual record including any testimony. She then carefully considers what the applicable law is and how it applies to the facts. She tries to “stay in her lane” as a judge, deciding cases before her but going no further.

In short, as demonstrated by her 500-plus opinions, she is a careful, thorough, and independent judge who “shows no fear or favor.” Despite efforts by Republicans, Jackson resisted giving labels like “originalist” or believer in a “living Constitution” to her approach to judging. She also showed patience and brilliance in responding to Republican attacks on her record.

She effectively rebutted claims that she is “soft on crime.” because of sentencing decisions in child pornography and other cases. She strongly defended her role as a public defender. She explained that while she obviously disagreed with individual clients, she fulfilled the Constitution’s promise that everyone accused of a crime should have a zealous lawyer defending them. She resisted efforts by Senator Ted Cruz to draw her into discussions of critical race theory and other issues that she described as irrelevant to her judging.

Overall, Jackson held up extremely well during 13 marathon hours of questioning. She was engaging, humble, and showed a tremendous command of the law and of judging. Towards the end of the day, Senator Cory Booker paid tribute to her tremendous efforts and proclaimed that her grandparents would have been proud of her entire career, including this day.

What’s Next?

On Wednesday, the Committee will conclude its questioning, with each senator getting another 20 minutes to ask questions. Outside witnesses will testify on Thursday, and then senators will submit written questions for her to answer. Although the schedule is not 100% definite, we hope that the Committee will vote on her nomination during the week of March 28, with a full Senate vote during the week of April 4.

We fully expect the joyous result that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will become Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black female justice on the Supreme Court. We have much more work to do to reclaim the Court, but we all should soon be able to celebrate this important step.


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