• Wed. Oct 4th, 2023


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What to Watch as Jackson’s Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings Begin

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday will kick off a historic set of hearings on President Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who would be the first Black woman to serve there.

The proceedings will introduce Judge Jackson, who currently sits on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to much of the country, and give senators a high-profile opportunity to question her on matters of law and policy.

Here’s how it will unfold and what to keep an eye on.

At 11 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin the hearing, which is to take place in a cavernous room outfitted in white marble and wood paneling near the Capitol. Senators will take turns making opening statements, and Judge Jackson will deliver her own remarks.

The hearings are very likely to end in Judge Jackson’s confirmation; Democrats can confirm her without a single Republican vote if they stay united. But they would like some G.O.P. support, and Monday’s session will signal how aggressively Republicans plan to question her, an early indicator of her chances of winning anyone over. Republicans have conceded it is a sensitive situation, considering that her confirmation is likely and they are loath to be seen as piling on against a woman of color with a gold-plated legal résumé and a reputation as a solid jurist.

Watch for several likely lines of Republican attack. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, has made it clear he wants Judge Jackson to state whether she would support adding seats to the court, as some progressive activists want. Republicans will also press her on her representation of terror detainees at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and her work as a public defender in general. Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, has raised questions about her sentencing of those accused of sex crimes involving children. Abortion rights are also certain to come up.

Senators will be probing to see how Judge Jackson responds when pressed. Does she remain composed? Do her answers address the questions? Does she have understandable responses to complex issues? How much is she willing to reveal of her judicial philosophy? Temperament is part of the judicial character and carries weight in the confirmation process. In recent decades, nominees have grown increasingly reticent about their views during their confirmation hearings, usually declining to prejudge any issues that might come before the court. But that will not stop senators from asking.

Senators will dig into Judge Jackson’s judicial record, including some rulings she handed down as a Federal District Court judge that were overturned on appeal, such as a decision restraining a Trump administration immigration policy.

Republicans are also taking aim at Judge Jackson’s service on the United States Sentencing Commission, a federal panel formed to review sentencing guidelines and recommend changes to increase transparency and reduce disparities. They say that she favored sentence reductions, but other members of the bipartisan commission say the recommendations were settled by consensus.

All eyes will be on how Judge Jackson sells herself for the job, both to the committee and to the American public. She and her Democratic supporters want her to come across as an exceptionally qualified woman who belongs on a court that has been lacking in diverse voices. Democrats point to her endorsement by law enforcement groups and conservative judicial colleagues as strong evidence that she should win bipartisan support. If Judge Jackson does a compelling job laying out her life story, she could make it more difficult for Republicans to challenge her even as most of them intend to oppose her.