Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has already appeared before the Senate three times in confirmation proceedings for prior roles. But several days of hearings for her Supreme Court nomination this week will be the highest-profile — and likely most contentious — grilling that Jackson has faced from lawmakers.
Democrats have signaled they will highlight the historic nature of her nomination — if confirmed, she’ll be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court — and her qualifications, which lawmakers of both parties have described as impressive.
But Senate Republicans say they still have questions about Jackson’s record, even as they’ve said they’ll keep proceedings substantive and dignified.
Jackson, a Harvard Law graduate who grew up in Miami, has served less than a year in her current role on the DC US Circuit Court of Appeals. Before that, she was a judge on DC’s federal trial court for eight years. She also vice-chaired the US Sentencing Commission between 2010 and 2014. All three roles required her to sit for Senate confirmation testimony — in hearings that featured a more low-key tone than what is expected this week.
The two days of Jackson questioning will begin Tuesday, after a round of proceedings Monday featuring opening statements and her introduction.
Here is what might come up at her hearing:
“Soft on crime” framing: Senate Judiciary Republicans have grilled lower court nominees on criminal justice policies that they describe as soft on crime. And in floor remarks on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell previewed that focus on Jackson. His speech critiqued the praise she has received from supporters for how her experience as a public defender gives her “empathy” as a judge.
“Even amidst the national crime wave, a disproportionate share of the new judges President (Joe) Biden has nominated share this professional background that liberals say gives special empathy for criminal defendants,” the Kentucky Republican said. He added that Biden “is deliberately working to make the whole federal judiciary soft on crime.”
Jackson may point to her personal background to counter this attack, as she has done before. With an uncle who was prosecuted for a drug offense, and several members of her family — including her brother — who served in law enforcement, Jackson has relationships that she says have helped her see both sides of the issue.
Scrutiny of her approach to child porn offenses: An extension of the “soft on crime” attack is the claim, somewhat misleadingly made by GOP Sen. Josh Hawley last week, that Jackson is soft on child pornography crimes.
His claims rely on two factors: First is her sentencing record in some cases, which is within the mainstream of how many other judges approach the offenses in question; second are statements she’s made about the legal issues around sex crimes, including in a 1996 law review article and in her role on the sentencing commission.
Some of the sentencing commission comments Hawley highlighted were in response to the testimony of witnesses at commission hearings. A review of the hearing transcript and interviews with two experts who testified belie the claim that Jackson showed leniency toward child pornography during a daylong session that Hawley quoted from in questioning her record. Still, the Missouri Republican has stood by his criticism.
Work on the US Sentencing Commission: In addition to the commission work on child sex crimes, other aspects of Jackson’s tenure there could come up. Before serving as vice chair, she served a two-year stint as an assistant special counsel for the commission in the mid-2000s.
Republicans are poring over thousands of documents for more information on the stances she took while working for the commission.
Read more about questions she may face here.