(WASHINGTON) — Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court in its 233-year history, will appear on Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first of four days of high-profile confirmation hearings.
Monday’s session kicked off with up to 10-minute opening statements from Senate Judiciary Committee members, five-minute statements from outside introducers, and then 10 minutes from Jackson herself.
Jackson, 51, who currently sits on the nation’s second most powerful court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, will face questions from the committee’s 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats over two days, starting Tuesday. On Thursday, senators can ask questions of the American Bar Association and other outside witnesses.
While Democrats have the votes to confirm President Joe Biden’s first Supreme Court nominee on their own, and hope to by the middle of April, the hearings could prove critical to the White House goal of securing at least some Republican support and shoring up the court’s credibility. Jackson has been vetted twice previously by the Judiciary Committee and twice confirmed by the full Senate as a judge — most recently last year, with three Republican votes.
Jackson, who would replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer if confirmed, has spent the last month meeting with senators from both parties behind closed doors on Capitol Hill ahead of publicly testifying to her qualifications for the nation’s highest court.
Here is how the news is developing. Check back for updates:
Mar 21, 11:31 am
Biden tweets support for Jackson
In a show of support for his nominee, Biden tweeted a video from Judge Jackson’s nomination ceremony at the White House ahead of her confirmation hearings Monday.
“Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a brilliant legal mind with the utmost character and integrity,” the tweet read. “She deserves to be confirmed as the next Justice of the Supreme Court.”
Democrats, with 50 seats in the Senate and Vice President Kamala Harris as a tie-breaking vote, already have the votes to confirm Jackson, but the White House is hoping to secure Republican votes and the approval of the American public with this week’s hearings.
Mar 21, 11:29 am
Durbin opens historic hearings
Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., gaveled in the hearings at 11:02 a.m. — marking the first time in 233 years that the Senate will consider the nomination of a Black woman to the Supreme Court.
“The rule of law has stood the test of time, but the reality is that the court’s members have never really reflected the nation they served,” Durbin said.
“Today is a proud day for America,” he continued, noting he saw many young African American women on the steps of the Supreme Court at a rally for Jackson’s confirmation earlier this morning.
Durbin also had a preemptive message for Republicans on the committee like Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who are expected to attack Jackson’s credibility, noting that she’s been vetted three times by the Senate and confirmed.
“Despite your record, we’ve heard claims that you’re, quote, soft on crime. These baseless charges are unfair,” he said.
“You, Judge Jackson, are one of Mr. Lincoln’s living witnesses of an America that is unafraid of challenge, willing to risk change, confident of the basic goodness of our citizens — and you are living witness to the fact that in America all is possible,” Durbin continued.
Mar 21, 11:06 am
Jackson’s family in the room as confirmation hearings kick off
Confirmation hearings for Judge Jackson — Biden’s first nominee to the Supreme Court — are officially underway. Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., gaveled them in just after 11 a.m.
To begin, the committee’s 22 members will each have 10 minutes each for opening statements ahead of two introducers to Jackson and an opening statement from Jackson herself.
If confirmed, Jackson would become the first Black woman on the nation’s highest court.
A Monmouth University Poll released this morning found a majority of Americans (55%) say Jackson should be confirmed as an associate justice on the Supreme Court. Only 21% say she should not be confirmed, and 24% offered no opinion.
Jackson’s husband, Patrick, two daughters, Talia and Lelia, and her parents, Johnny Brown and Ellery Brown, are all in attendance for the historic event.
In a sign of pandemic restrictions easing across the country and in Washington, almost no one in the hearing room was wearing a mask.
Mar 21, 10:31 am
Ketanji Brown Jackson: The meaning behind the name
Judge Jackson recounted in a 2017 speech that her parents, Johnny and Ellery Brown, wanting to show pride in their African ancestry, asked her aunt, who was then in the Peace Corps in West Africa, for a list of African girl names.
Taking one of her suggestions, Jackson’s parents named her Ketanji Onyika, which translates to “lovely one.”
Jackson’s parents grew up in South Florida under segregation, “but never gave up hope that their children would enjoy the true promise of America,” Biden said at a White House event last month introducing Jackson.
Biden said Jackson was a “star student” who fell in love with a law career while watching her own father going to law school at the University of Miami, often drawing on coloring books at the dining room table next to her father’s homework. Jackson went on to attend Harvard Law School herself, despite some cautioning her against setting her sights too high.
“My life has been blessed beyond measure and I do know that one can only come this far by faith,” Jackson said at the White House. “Among my many blessings, the very first is the fact that I was born in this great country. The United States of America is the greatest beacon of hope and democracy the world has ever known.”
She married Patrick Jackson, a general surgeon, in 1996, and the couple has two daughters, Talia, 21, and Leila, 17.
Mar 21, 10:22 am
In nominating Jackson, Biden fulfilled campaign pledge
With Biden’s nomination of Judge Jackson, he officially followed through on his 2020 campaign promise to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court and his vow to make the high court look more “like America.”
“For too long our government, our courts haven’t looked like America,” Biden said at a White House event last month introducing his historic pick. “And I believe it is time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications. And that we inspire all young people to believe that they can one day serve their country at the highest level.”
A former clerk to retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, Jackson has more than eight years experience on the federal bench, following a path through the judiciary traveled by many nominees before her. If confirmed, she would be the first federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court and the first justice since Thurgood Marshall to have criminal defense experience.
“She listens. She looks people in the eye, lawyers, defendants, victims and families. And she strives to ensure that everyone understands why she made a decision, what the law is and what it means to them,” Biden said. “She strives to be fair, to get it right, to do justice.”
While the White House was eager to follow through on Biden’s pledge, an ABC News/Ipsos poll from January found just 23% of Americans said they wanted him to automatically follow through on his history-making commitment. Over three-quarters of Americans (76%) said they wanted Biden to consider “all possible nominees.”
Mar 21, 10:02 am
Jackson preps for intense hearings by — knitting
While Judge Jackson has more experience fielding questions during high-intensity Senate hearings than any Supreme Court nominee since Clarence Thomas in 1991, she has described the process as “extremely nerve-wracking,” although she’s seen Senate confirmation three times.
To offset that nervous energy, Jackson says she took up — knitting.
“The lights are as bright as they are in here, in terms of cameras and attention, and you do your best not to make a fool of yourself in front of the senators,” Jackson said in a conversation for the D.C. Circuit Historical Society in 2019.
She said that she “started so many scarves I could have outfitted a small army,” recalling her first Senate confirmation process in 2012, when she was nominated by then-President Barack Obama to serve on the U.S. District Court in Washington. She currently sits on currently sits Washington’s federal appellate court.
Ahead of this week’s marathon questioning, Jackson met one-on-one with 44 senators ahead of her hearings next week, including all members of the Judiciary Committee and its 11 Republican members, according to former Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, the White House “sherpa” for the nominee, escorting her on Capitol Hill.
Mar 21, 9:40 am
Some in GOP paint Jackson as ‘soft on crime,’ White House rejects accusation
Several GOP senators have telegraphed plans to question Judge Jackson’s defense of detainees at Guantanamo Bay as a private defense attorney, her support of reduced sentences for convicted drug offenders and the backing of her nomination by outside progressive advocacy groups.
In a sign the hearings could get contentious, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri — a former Supreme Court clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts and a potential presidential hopeful — suggested in a barrage of tweets Thursday that Jackson has a “long record” of letting child porn offenders “off the hook” and suggested she is “soft on crime.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back last week, calling it a “last-ditched eve-of-hearing desperation attack.”
“The facts are that, in the vast majority of cases involving child sex crimes, broadly, the sentences Judge Jackson imposed were consistent with or above what the government or U.S. probation [authorities] recommended. And so, this attack that we’ve seen over the last couple of days relies on factual inaccuracies and taking Judge Jackson’s record wildly out of context,” Psaki said.
While court records show that Jackson did impose lighter sentences than federal guidelines suggested, Hawley’s insinuation neglects critical context, including the fact that the senator himself has voted to confirm at least three federal judges who also engaged in the same practice. ABC News’ Devin Dwyer fact checks Hawley here.
-ABC News’ Devin Dwyer
Mar 21, 9:23 am
Will any Republicans vote for Jackson?
Judge Jackson has been vetted twice previously by the Judiciary Committee and twice confirmed by the full Senate as a judge — most recently last year, with three Republican votes. She was also confirmed by the Senate in 2010 as vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
GOP Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Lindsey Graham voted in favor of Judge Jackson’s confirmation to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in June 2021, but after private meetings with Jackson this month, all three were noncommittal about supporting her again.
While Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin has said he is hopeful more than three Republicans will support the nomination this time around, GOP Whip Sen. John Thune said last week he would be surprised it that were the case.
“I think it’s important to recognize that she has been confirmed three times now, so this is not a candidate who is a blank slate to us,” Collins said after spending more than 90 minutes one-on-one with Jackson. “I will, of course, await the hearings before the Judiciary Committee before making a decision.”
No Republican senator has publicly disputed Jackson’s qualification to be a justice, though several have raised concerns about her rulings and presumed judicial philosophy.
-ABC News’ Devin Dwyer
Mar 21, 9:06 am
What to expect at Monday’s hearings
Monday marks the first day of four high-profile hearings where the Senate Judiciary Committee and American people will hear from Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson — President Joe Biden’s first Supreme Court nominee and the first Black woman nominated to the nation’s highest court in its 233-year history.
The hearings will gavel in at 11 a.m. with 10-minute statements from the committee’s 11 Republican and 11 Democratic members. Following member opening statements, Judge Thomas Griffith, formerly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and professor Lisa Fairfax of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School will have five minutes each to introduce Jackson, whom they know personally.
Finally, Judge Jackson will then deliver an opening statement in the afternoon for 10 minutes. ABC News will air special coverage of her remarks.
And for the first time since the pandemic, for each half-hour of the proceeding, up to 60 members of the public invited by senators will also be allowed to attend.
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