Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Confirmation Hearings Kick Off With a Loaded Start


Ketanji Brown Jackson’s first hearing for the position of Supreme Court justice promises sparks throughout the rest of the week. Graphic by K. Peechu. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Day 1 of the confirmation hearing for Ketanji Brown Jackson, a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit nominated by President Joe Biden to assume Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s seat following his soon-retirement, took place on Monday, March 21st. Her confirmation process is a historic beginning, potentially promising the first-ever Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

The first day for hearings mainly consisted of opening statements, but the introductions suggest battles in future days filled with heat. Jackson will be questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee members through the rest of the week before they construct a report regarding her confirmation to the full Senate.

Many of Jackson’s opening remarks concerned her own identity and expressed admirable humility. She revealed how her name “Ketanji Onyika” meant “lovely one”, expressing her parents’ “pride in their heritage and hope for the future.” She stated that she was “very thankful for the confidence that President Biden has placed in [her] and for the kindness that he and the First Lady, and the Vice President and Second Gentleman, have extended to [her] and [her] family.”

She expressed her gratefulness for and inspiration from her mentors throughout the years, stating, “Justice (Stephen) Breyer not only gave me the greatest job that any young lawyer could ever hope to have, but he also exemplifies what it means to be a Supreme Court justice of the highest level of skill and integrity, civility, and grace.”

Jackson vowed to maintain an “independent” approach to law, affirming, “I evaluate the facts, and I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me, without fear or favor, consistent with my judicial oath.” While some Republicans have criticized this approach of not aligning with a particular judicial philosophy, others have vouched for Jackson’s effectiveness and impartiality on the court.

“Judge Jackson is an independent jurist who adjudicates based on the facts and the law and not as a partisan,” Thomas Griffith said, a retired Republican appointee who had served on the US Court of Appeals of the DC Circuit. 

Some senators, such as Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey (D), who is the only Black member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed his joy and impact of Jackson’s nomination in an emotional opening statement, saying, “This is not a normal day for America…We have never had this moment before.”

Several other Democrats relayed this sentiment towards the implications of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing in terms of historical importance. “You, Judge Jackson, can be the first,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin stated, acknowledging that being first wasn’t always easy. “Today is a proud day for America.”

However, several Republicans such as Senator Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Senator Ted Cruz (Texas) had made it a point to bring up past grievances, such as differences between the treatment of Jackson versus how Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was treated during his 2018 hearing, repeatedly noting that Democrats focused on Jackson’s legal records while having fired “personal attacks” on Kavanaugh because of sexual assault allegations. Many have said that the senators undermined the seriousness of the accusations of Kavanaugh to establish their argument, but it does imply that more will be said on this topic in future hearings.

“I can assure you that your hearing will feature none of that disgraceful behavior,” Cruz said to Jackson. “No one is going to inquire into your teenage dating habits. No one is going to ask you with mock severity, ‘Do you like beer?’ But that’s not to say this hearing should be non-substantive and non-vigorous.”

There were also previews of the questioning Jackson will face from lawmakers throughout the rest of the week. Republican senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee showed concern over Jackson’s “lenient” sentencing of child pornography defenders, which was met with push-back from the White House and fact-checkers. Democrats have also quickly countered potential criticism, stating that accusations of Jackson being “soft on crime” are baseless.

One of the harshest accusations came from GOP senator Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee), who suggested Jackson had a “hidden agenda.” She cited concerns about school mask mandates, critical race theory, and letting “violent criminals, cop killers, and child predators back to the streets.”

While many Republicans and some others want clear-cut answers on various policy issues and court-related matters, Jackson may not necessarily provide answers for all these questions according to former Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, who played the role of Jackson’s “sherpa” on Capitol Hill. 

“Everyone understands that the size of the Supreme Court is an issue for this body, for the Congress. It is not for the court, and I don’t think you will see any nominee address that,” Jones said. “There’s gonna be some very pointed questions about [Jackson’s] record. That’s what the senators are there for. She will be prepared.”