By LISA MASCARO, correspondent of the AP Congress
WASHINGTON (AP) — History broke the moment Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the first black woman appointed to the Supreme Court.
President Joe Biden has promised he will pick a black woman for the job and Harvard-educated Jackson, 51, has emerged as an early frontrunner, having garnered Senate support on several occasions before, including he a year ago to be a judge of the court of appeal. . Democrats have the potential votes in the Senate 50-50 to confirm Jackson, to replace incumbent Justice Stephen Breyer, even if all Republicans line up against it.
A few takeaways from Monday’s session, the first day of Jackson’s confirmation hearing:
“Today is a proud day for America,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the committee, opening the historic hearing.
It took 233 years to get to this moment, the first black woman appointed as a Supreme Court justice, which once upheld racial segregation in America.
Yet as the story builds, it also carries echoes of a revolutionary earlier era.
Senators on the Republican side criticize Jackson’s record as too soft on crime, much like Southern senators in 1967 linked race and crime during a time of rioting in cities across the country when Thurgood Marshall, the famous civil rights lawyer, was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson to be the first black judge.
Jackson would be the first federal public defender to appear, and Marshall, as a civil rights attorney, has worked across the country defending black Americans who often face spurious charges.
DEFEND THE “GREAT EXPERIMENT OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY”
Jackson told senators that if confirmed in court, she would work “to uphold and defend the Constitution and this great experiment in American democracy.”
The story of the judge’s life is part of this story. She told senators she stood before them on the shoulders of giants – including her own parents, public school teachers, who left isolated Florida for a better life in Washington, D.C.
She was born in the aftermath of the civil rights era and her parents gave her an African name – “Ketanji Onyika”, which they were told meant “beautiful”, she explained. They taught her that, unlike the obstacles they faced, if she worked hard, “I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be.”
The judge is no stranger to the committee, having been confirmed three times before. The senators have said time and time again what a pleasure it has been to meet Jackson one-on-one, who is open and engaging. Her family and friends sat behind her, including her husband of 25 years, surgeon Patrick Jackson, and her two daughters. One of her daughters once wrote a letter to Barack Obama, saying her mother should be appointed to the court.
The audience was also filled with the country’s top civil rights leaders and representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus.
A judge now for 10 years, Jackson told senators she decides cases from a “neutral position” after assessing the facts by applying the law “without fear or favour.”
SENATORS CAN’T LEAVE KAVANAUGH
Top Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa insisted his side of the aisle would not turn the week-long hearing into a “show” of Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 nomination, which was exploded over high school sexual assault allegations. Kavanaugh denied the allegations.
Still, senators on the Republican side continued to reference Kavanaugh’s hearings, which exploded when Democrats presented the assault allegations and he delivered a fierce defense of beer drinking and high school.
“It will not be a political circus,” assured Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
“No one is going to investigate your teen dating habits,” he said. “No one is going to ask you with mock severity, ‘Do you like beer? “”
Republicans who don’t have the votes to stop Jackson’s confirmation want to at least remind voters of that politically charged chapter, which many believe cost Democrats Senate seats in that year’s election.
But as Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told Jackson, “This hearing should really be about you, not us.”
IT’S NOT A MATTER OF RACE, UNTIL IT IS
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in his opening remarks that while he thought ‘the court should be like America’ – nodding to Jackson’s historic nomination – he did. also indicated that he would not hesitate to ask the candidate difficult questions.
“‘We’re all racist if we ask tough questions.’ It’s not going to fly with us,” he said.
But the imagery is stark from the all-white, largely Republican side of the south aisle, as mostly male senators question and criticize Jackson’s record and demand a fuller account of his legal philosophy.
“It’s not about race,” Cruz said.
Durbin opened the hearing by reminding senators that Jackson is not the only one facing this moment in history.
“Consider how history will judge each senator as we face our constitutional responsibility to advise and consent,” he said.
JUDGING THE JUDGE AND SENATORS
While Jackson is the one appearing before the Judiciary Committee, senators are also being judged on how they handle her historic nomination — especially those who could run for president in 2024.
Potential presidential hopeful Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., set the tone before the hearings even began, raising concerns that Jackson gave the child pornography defendants lighter sentences than necessary.
“I’m not interested in trying to play gotcha,” Hawley said when laying out her concerns on Monday, “I’m interested in her answers.”
Fact checkers said Hawley chooses cases selectively, including many cases in which prosecutors were actually also seeking sentences that were lenient than federal sentencing guidelines.
“There have been accusations that we have selected some of Judge Jackson’s criminal cases,” Grassley said. “Don’t worry. We’ll talk about the others too.
As Hawley jumped ahead with his questions, Cruz, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. and others are not ready to cede the spotlight at hearings.
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