6 takeaways from Ketanji Brown Jackson’s final Supreme Court confirmation hearing

The Jackson hearing threw a spotlight on the national partisan divide and underscored how Republicans are trying to paint Democrats as soft on crime in the 2022 elections.

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American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary’s Ann Claire Williams, center, D. Jean Veta, left, and Joseph Drayton, right, testify during a Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson,

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

WASHINGTON — On the fourth and final day of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, the judge was not there. Outside witnesses testified for and against Jackson while the judge was off meeting with seven Democratic senators, including Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.

Ann Claire Williams, who was the first Black woman to sit on Chicago-based federal district and appellate courts, was the lead-off witness for the Democrats, appearing in her role as the chair of the nonpartisan American Bar Association Standing Committee on the federal judiciary.

Williams, now retired and of counsel to Jones Day in Chicago, described the exhaustive process used to evaluate judicial candidates and how her committee unanimously gave Jackson its highest rating — “well qualified.”

Since last year, Jackson has been a federal appellate judge and before that she was on the federal trial bench.

Takeaways:

1. The Jackson hearing threw a spotlight on the national partisan divide and underscored how Republicans are trying to paint Democrats as soft on crime in the 2022 local, state and federal elections.

That’s why the policies of high-profile Democratic Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx —when it comes to incarceration and the cases she chooses to pursue — will likely figure in races in Illinois up and down the ballot.

2. Jackson is headed towards confirmation. The Senate is 50-50 and if all Democrats stick together — and as of Thursday it seems they will — she will be the 116th justice, with Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman of color to be VP, casting the tie-breaking vote for the first Black female justice.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., wants an April 4 committee vote and a full Senate confirmation vote by April 8.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced from the Senate floor he won’t support Jackson. Durbin, on the Senate floor after the four days of hearings concluded said, “The Republicans are testing their messages for the November election. I bet you’ve heard some of them. One of them is Democrats are ‘soft on crime.’” Durbin has been stressing Jackson’s endorsements from police groups.

3. When Jackson appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year for her hearing to sit on the D.C. circuit, no one brought up her sentencing record on child pornography cases.

The GOP senators most hostile to Jackson — Ted Cruz of Texas; Tom Cotton of Arkansas; Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Josh Hawley of Missouri — used those cases this week to try to say Jackson is not just soft on crime, but — in a more incendiary accusation — somehow has an agenda to give lenient sentences to sex offenders.

Durbin asked Joseph Drayton, another ABA standing committee member, if any concerns about Jackson’s sentences for child porn charges came up in the 250 or so confidential interviews conducted about her with judges, academics and prosecution and defense lawyers.

If a prosecutor or defense counsel “felt that way, it would have come out in our interviews,” Drayton said. No “evidence” of that surfaced, he said.

4. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, tried to paint the ABA as a lefty “public advocacy” group, in order, it seemed, to throw a shadow over its top rating for Jackson.

In an exchange, Cornyn asked Williams if she got “the drift” of where he was going regarding his questions about ABA advocacy.

Deftly replied Williams, “I definitely get the drift.”

While the ABA president appointed the standing committee members, Williams stressed the ratings group does its work independently.

And for the record: Looking at the three Supreme Court justices nominated by President Donald Trump, the ABA unanimously found Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch “well qualified.” A “substantial majority” found Amy Coney Barrett “well qualified.”

5. Of all the outside witnesses the Republicans could have picked to oppose Jackson, they went with GOP Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who, it turns out, is an election denier. Marshall refused to call President Joe Biden the “duly elected president” when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked several times. There is no evidence to show Biden is not the duly elected president.

6. Duckworth, after meeting with Jackson, said in a statement she hopes the judge “makes history by becoming the first-ever Black woman to serve on the highest court — and the first Justice with experience serving as a federal public defender —which provides her an important perspective that has been ignored for far too long in this country. She’ll have my vote.”

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