Senate Witnesses Give Mixed Reviews of Jackson’s Potential on Supreme Court

March 24, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Senate Witnesses Give Mixed Reviews of Jackson’s Potential on Supreme Court
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — American Bar Association attorneys commended Ketanji Brown Jackson Thursday during the fourth and final day of Senate hearings into her nomination to the Supreme Court.

They disputed Republican accusations that she was too easy in her sentencing of criminal convicts or that she is a liberal social activist.

“The assertion was made over and over and over again that Judge Jackson was soft on crime when it came to prosecution versus defense,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Did you find any evidence from all the people that you interviewed of that assertion?”

“None whatsoever,” said Ann Claire Williams, who chairs the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

The ABA committee is an independent organization that evaluates the qualifications of nominees for federal judgeships based on their rulings, the legal analysis in their official writings and their temperaments. 

After interviewing more than 250 judges and lawyers familiar with Jackson, the ABA rated her with its highest rating of “well qualified.”

Jackson, 51, has served as a federal judge for the past nine years in both district and appellate courts. She also has worked as a federal public defender, a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and an attorney for a law firm.

While she was in law school at Harvard University, she clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who she would replace after his planned retirement this year.

“The Standing Committee voted unanimously that Judge Jackson earned our highest rating,” Williams said.

Her greatest notoriety comes from the fact she would become the first Black woman appointed to the Supreme Court. 

Jackson did not attend the hearing Thursday. She spent most of the day meeting with individual senators who will vote on whether to confirm her, which is planned before April 8.

A day earlier, she withstood sometimes withering accusations from Republicans who said she allowed defendants in child pornography cases to get off with sentences that were much lighter than recommended under federal sentencing guidelines.

They also accused her of siding too strongly with Guantanamo Bay detainees she had represented as an attorney and of making racial issues too high of a priority.

The Republicans’ attacks led Durbin to lash back as the hearing started Thursday. The harshest comments came from Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

“Some of the attacks on this judge were unfair, unrelenting and beneath the dignity of the U.S. Senate,” Durbin said. “You can disagree with a senator’s vote, you can disagree with a judge’s rulings, but to draw conclusions that really reflect on them personally and their values and take it to an extreme is unfair whether the nominee is a Democrat or a Republican.”

Among the witnesses, the strongest criticism of Jackson came from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who said she seeks to reform the criminal justice system in a way that undermines the rule of law.

Jackson “believes that a fundamental redesign is needed in our criminal justice system and that she would be so inclined to use her position on the court to this end,” Marshall said.

Eleanor McCullen, an anti-abortion activist, said she was “saddened” by a Jackson amicus brief that supported a 35-foot buffer zone outside abortion clinics to exclude anyone from harassing patients or staff members. She called it a violation of First Amendment free speech.

“She and her colleagues maligned pro-life counselors,” McCullen said.

Witnesses called by Democrats praised Jackson.

Wade Henderson, interim president of the nonprofit Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said, “Her background is absolutely extraordinary, and her demonstration and mastery of the law is second to none.”

Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Jackson’s credentials “read like a storybook for the perfectly prepared jurist to sit on the nation’s highest court.”

Tom can be reached at [email protected]

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  • American Bar Association
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  • Ketanji Brown Jackson
  • Senate
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