Highlights from Kentaji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing

The Supreme Court in Washington DC Photo credit: Unsplash

Congress wrapped up confirmation hearings for Kentaji Brown Jackson on March 24 after a four-day long process on Capitol Hill. If confirmed, Jackson will be the first Black woman appointed to the court and only the sixth woman to hold that office.

Jackson’s Qualifications

Jackson graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. from Harvard University and graduated cum laude with a J.D. from Harvard Law School. During her time at Harvard, she was an editor for the Harvard Law Review.

Jackson clerked for three federal judges: U.S. District Judge Patti Saris; U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Bruce Selya; and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer (the justice Jackson would replace.) From 2003 to 2005, she served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission reducing arbitrary disparities and ensuring just and proportionate federal sentences. She served as a criminal defense lawyer in Washington from 2005 to 2007, one of few justices in recent years with substantive time as a criminal defense attorney.

After her time in the courtroom, Jackson transitioned to the judging bench. Former President Barack Obama nominated her to be a district court judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2012. In nine years, she wrote over 500 opinions. In 2021, President Biden nominated Jackson for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She served for nine months before being nominated for the Supreme Court on Feb. 25, 2022.

Confirmation Schedule

A confirmation hearing is divided into three parts. First, senators and Jackson offer opening statements. Second, the nominee endures questioning from congressmen about a variety of topics and issues. Third, members of the American Bar and other outside non-partisan groups offer perspectives on the nominee’s qualifications. Afterward, there is a full senate hearing where senators vote on whether to confirm the nominee.

Opening Statements

Jackson began by expressing gratitude for those who helped her get to where she is: President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, God, her parents, her husband, her children and other professional mentors.

She showed respect for Justice Breyer.

“Justice 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 said. “It is extremely humbling to be considered for Justice Breyer’s seat, and I know that I could never fill his shoes. But if confirmed, I would hope to carry on his spirit.”

She committed herself to honor the Constitution if she serves on the Supreme Court.

“Members of this Committee: If I am confirmed, I commit to you that I will work productively to support and defend the Constitution and the grand experiment of American democracy that has endured over these past 246 years,” Jackson said.

Senate Questioning

On the second and third day of confirmation hearings, Republican senators asked Jackson several questions regarding her qualifications, previous sentencing and her judicial philosophy.

The main criticism from Republicans came in regards to her sentencing of an owner and distributor of child pornography to three months, accusing Jackson of being soft on crime.

When asked if she regretted her sentencing, Jackson responded with, “Senator, what I regret is that in a hearing about my qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences,”

Another popular point of questioning related to Critical Race Theory. Jackson reiterated the lack of jurisdiction the court has over the school curriculum.

“It doesn’t come up in my work as a judge,” she said, “and it’s never something I’ve studied or relied on, and it wouldn’t be something I would rely on if I was on the Supreme Court.”

While Jackson steered clear of disclosing judicial philosophy, opting to focus on how she makes decisions and her methodology, she did explain her view of how judges should act succinctly.

“Judges can’t make law; judges shouldn’t be policymakers,” Jackson said.

Additionally, Jackson revealed if confirmed she would recuse herself from hearing an affirmative action case at Harvard University where she serves on Harvard’s Board of Overseers.

Jackson was not present on the fourth day of confirmation hearings. Instead, members of the American Bar Association and other outside organizations verified and testified of Jackson’s credibility to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Future of Jackson’s Confirmation

Dick Durbin, who presided over the hearings, announced the committee will meet in executive session on the nomination on March 28. Panel rules allow for any committee business to be “held over” for one week, which would push the actual date of the vote to April 4. Democrats are hopeful for confirmation by Easter.

Currently, the Senate is divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats. With the Vice President breaking any tie votes, Democrats are hopeful Jackson will be confirmed.