WASHINGTON – Less than a month after President Joe Biden introduced her as his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson faces the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday for the first in what will be a whirlwind week of hearings.
If confirmed, Jackson would be the 116th justice and the first Black woman seated on the nation’s highest court in its 233-year-history. While Jackson’s confirmation wouldn’t change the ideological makeup of the court, her background as a former federal public defender and a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission may have a big influence.
But first, Jackson, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, has to navigate the kind of politics jurists generally like to avoid. Monday’s hearing will be all talk and no questions, with senators – and Jackson herself – offering carefully scripted opening statements that may offer some clues about how the next few days will go.
Who is Jackson?: Supreme Court pick Ketanji Brown Jackson in her own words
Hearing preview:What to watch for in Ketanji Brown Jackson’s hearing
Who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee?
The Senate Judiciary Committee that presides over Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court is split evenly with 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans.
Members include a handful of former presidential candidates and firebrands from both sides of the aisle who this week will question Jackson, the first Black woman nominated for the court.
The members of the committee are:
- Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Il., chair
- Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member
- Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
- Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
- Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.
- Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
- Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii
- Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
- Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif.
- Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga.
- Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
- Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas
- Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah
- Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas
- Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.
- Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.
- Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
- Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.
- Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
- Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
– Rick Rouan
Poll: Majority of Americans support Jackson
A majority of Americans believe Jackson should be confirmed to the Supreme Court, but nearly half don’t know enough about her to assess her qualifications, according to a Monmouth University Poll released on Monday.
More than two-thirds of Americans feel it is important for the high court to reflect the nation’s diversity, the Monmouth poll found. About 2 in 10 believe that having a Black woman on the court will have a real impact on how cases are decided.
The results are consistent with other polling since President Joe Biden announced Jackson as his nominee about a month ago. Just more than half of voters in a Wall Street Journal poll earlier this month said the Senate should confirm Jackson to the court. About a third said they are opposed. Just under 20% said they had no opinion or didn’t know.
– John Fritze
What does bipartisanship look like?
How times – and politics – have changed.
Breyer, who is retiring this year, was the last Supreme Court nominee from a president of either party to win substantial bipartisan support. These days, a bipartisan confirmation means a nominee is lucky to pick up three or four senators from the other party.
When Associate Justice Samuel Alito came along a dozen years later, the vote was far more narrow, 58-42, with only four Democrats breaking ranks. He was nominated by President George W. Bush. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor did slightly better in 2009, picking up nine Republicans. Associate Justice Elena Kagan, arguably one of the least controversial nominees in modern times, pulled in five GOP votes. Sotomayor and Kagan were both Obama appointees.
And then came President Donald Trump, whose three nominees were cleared on very thin margins. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch got three Democrats; Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh received one Democratic vote – West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin – and Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett became the first justice since the 19th Century to win confirmation without a single vote from the party opposing the president.
What does this mean for Jackson? There’s little reason to think the trend will change: In the current political landscape, Biden will be able to claim victory – and the mantle of bipartisanship – if only two or three Republicans wind up supporting her. If recent history is any guide, that’s about the best she can hope for.
– John Fritze
Who is Ketanji Brown Jackson?
Biden’s decision to nominate Jackson for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court wasn’t much of a surprise. In many ways, she was the safest bet.
That’s because Jackson, who Biden nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last year, has already been confirmed three times before. The Miami native and Harvard-educated lawyer had formerly served as a U.S. District Court judge and on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Both of those jobs required Senate approval.
Jackson, 51, clerked for the man she would replace, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer. And President Barack Obama not only nominated her to the federal bench in 2012 but he considered nominating her to the Supreme Court back in 2016.
Jackson has served on the D.C. Circuit since June and so has written only three opinions there. Of her two majority opinions, one dealt with whether a defense contractor could sue Iraq. In the other, Jackson wrote for a unanimous court that sided with federal unions in a dispute over labor negotiations.
But she has a deep record from the federal trial court, writing hundreds of opinions. In her most often-cited decision, Jackson ruled in 2019 that President Donald Trump’s former White House counsel, Don McGahn, had to testify as part of a congressional impeachment inquiry. But she’s also crafted opinions that sided with the Trump administration, including on immigration and his border wall.
– John Fritze, Kevin McCoy, Nick Penzenstadler
A look at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s family
Growing up in a largely Jewish community in South Miami, Florida, Jackson, who is Protestant, was a nationally ranked orator on her high school speech and debate team. At Harvard, actor Matt Damon was one of her scene partners in a drama course. But it was another relationship she developed at Harvard that would shape her life.
She and her husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, met as Harvard undergraduates. They married later, as she went to Harvard Law School and he went to Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. Patrick Jackson is now a surgeon on staff at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Jackson and her husband have two daughters, Talia, a college student, and Leila, a high schooler. After Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016, Leila Jackson, then in middle school, wrote a letter asking Obama to consider her mother as Scalia’s successor.
“She’s determined, honest and never breaks a promise,” Leila wrote, “even if there were other things she’d rather do.”
– John Fritze, Kevin McCoy, Nick Penzenstadler
Agenda for Jackson’s hearing
The Senate Judiciary Committee, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, will hold four days of hearings to consider Jackson for the Supreme Court, which is consistent with past nominees in modern times.
Starting at 11 a.m. ET Monday, the first day’s hearing will be like an appetizer, with committee members delivering 10-minute opening statements. Jackson will also get 10 minutes to give an opening pitch to the senators. The statements will likely offer some clues about the lines of questioning Democrats and Republicans will pursue.
The main event begins on Tuesday, when members of the committee will each get 30 minutes, in order of seniority, to question Jackson. The questioning will continue Wednesday with another round, with each senator receiving 20 minutes.
The final day of hearings, Thursday, will be an opportunity for outside groups and experts, such as the American Bar Association, to offer their thoughts on Jackson.
– John Fritze