Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson defended her record on the federal bench and as a public defender under intense questioning from Republican senators, most notably from conservative Lindsey Graham.
The veteran South Carolina senator grew increasingly combative during Tuesday’s confirmation hearings, demanding detailed information from Jackson about her religious faith and her representation of Guantánamo Bay detainees.
Graham’s question to Jackson was his first.
“What faith are you, by the way?”He asked for the nomination of the first Black woman to be elected to the nation’s highest judiciary.
Jackson, 51 years old, said that she was a nondenominational pastor. Graham then asked: “Could you fairly judge a Catholic?” Graham continued to press the nominee, saying, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are, in terms of religion?” He also asked if she regularly attended church services.
The judge pushed back, saying she was uncomfortable answering questions about her personal faith and assured the senator her beliefs were separate from her considerations on the bench.
Graham also criticized her past work as an appellate specialist at a private law firm, saying she put the United States “in an untenable position” by arguing to the Supreme Court that the executive branch did not have the authority to indefinitely lock up terror suspects based on periodic threat reviews.
After a testy exchange with Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois on the topic of Guantánamo Bay detainees, Graham stood and walked out of the hearings.
“As long as they’re dangerous, I hope they all die in jail if they’re going to go back and kill Americans. It won’t bother me one bit if 39 of them die in prison. That’s a better outcome than letting them go,” he angrily said before leaving.
Earlier, Durbin had asked Jackson to address a claim made Monday by Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri that her sentencing child sex offenders showed an “alarming pattern” of leniency.
“As a mother and a judge who has had to deal with these cases, I was thinking that nothing could be further from the truth,” Jackson told Durbin.
GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas pressed Jackson on whether she endorsed critical race theory, and whether she thought it should be taught to school children.
He then produced a copy of “Antiracist Baby,” a book that says babies are taught to be racist or anti-racist, and there is little neutral ground. Cruz said the book was taught to 4-year-olds through 7-year-olds at Washington’s Georgetown Day School, where Jackson serves as board member.
After replying several times that she was not familiar with the children’s book, Jackson took a long pause before responding to yet another question from Cruz about whether critical race theory should be taught to kids.
The judge audibly sighed before saying, “I have not reviewed any of those books, any of those ideas,” Jackson said. “They don’t come up in my work as a judge, which I am respectfully here to address.”
On Monday, the first day of Jackson’s confirmation hearings, Durbin shot down claims Jackson is “soft on crime” as “baseless” and “unfair.”
If approved, she would be the first Supreme Court justice since Thurgood Marshall to have represented indigent defendants accused of committing criminal offenses.
She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, and graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School. She was an editor at the Harvard Law Review.
She has served as an assistant federal public defender, a commissioner on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a private practice lawyer and on two federal courts.
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey told the hearings that Jackson’s life is an “American Story” and shared that one of the nominee’s daughters, 17-year-old Leila, wrote a letter to former President Obama about nominating her mom to the Supreme Court in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.
The note, written in 2016, began, “Leila Jackson’s 11-year old daughter, I strongly believe that she would be a good fit for this position.
“She is determined, honest, and never breaks a promise to anyone, even if there are other things she’d rather do. She can demonstrate commitment, and is loyal and never brags,”The proud daughter wrote.
“I think she would make a great Supreme Court Justice, even if the workload will be larger,”Leila continued before concluding her letter with “Thank you for listening!”
The hearings are expected to conclude on Thursday.