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Experts offer insight into Ketanji Brown Jackson's Supreme Court nomination

Democrats used the opportunity to defend Jackson’s record and celebrate her historic nomination, while Republicans bemoaned child pornography and critical race theory.
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WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday heard from a range of experts and advocates about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s qualifications to be a Supreme Court justice on the fourth and final day of confirmation hearings.

Democrats used the nearly four-hour hearing to compliment and defend Jackson's record, which has spanned numerous areas of the legal world. They touted her experience in private practice, as a federal public defender, vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and a federal judge.

Republicans, however, spent the hearing Thursday repeating the attacks on Jackson they made earlier in the week, including their allegation that she was too lenient in sentencing child pornography offenders.

Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill. opened the hearing by thanking the "majority" of his Republican colleagues for handling themselves professionally when questioning Jackson earlier in the week. He also praised Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., for the stirring remarks he made at the conclusion of Wednesday's hearing reflecting on the historic nature of Jackson's nomination.

"His statement will go down in the annals of this committee and the United States Senate for the impact that they had at the moment," Durbin said Thursday. "I wish I could say that for all of the things that have happened over the last 72 hours, but I can't. Some of the attacks on this judge were unfair, unrelenting and beneath the dignity of the United States Senate."

Members of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which is tasked with providing independent, nonpartisan evaluations of judicial nominees’ professional qualifications, said they interviewed 250 lawyers and judges about Jackson.

D. Jean Veta said the panel "readily concluded that Judge Jackson demonstrates the exceptional professional competence expected of a Supreme Court justice and thus merits a well-qualified rating."

Durbin asked Veta to address attacks that Republican senators made this week, accusing Jackson of giving too much leniency to criminal defendants.

"Notably, no judge, defense counsel or prosecutor expressed any concern in this regard and they uniformly rejected any accusations of bias," she said.

Durbin also asked the panel about the allegations lodged by several GOP senators who said Jackson was lenient toward child porn offenders. "It never came up in any of the interviews we conducted," said Ann Claire Williams.

"We did not find any evidence of that," added Joseph M. Drayton, who interviewed them and said that issue would have emerged in their conversations if it was a concern.

But the responses from the ABA members had no effect on Republicans' line of questioning, who invited a sex trafficking victims advocate and an anti-abortion activist to speak as witnesses. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., pushed Durbin to allow lawmakers to have access to pre-sentencing memos from child pornography cases she worked on, something Republicans have been demanding all week but Democrats have said could endanger victims.

“This is very confidential, sensitive information, which is usually only seen by a judge and to run the risk of bringing it to this committee and jeopardizing or worse, innocent third parties, our children, who have been victimized," Durbin said. "I’m sorry, senator, I’m not going to be party to that. I would not want that on my conscience."

Members of the committee heard from a panel of witnesses, half of whom were invited by Democrats and half invited by Republicans. Democrats' witnesses issued glowing recommendations for Jackson, noting the historic nature of her nomination. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman to serve on the high court.

Jackson would “shatter a glass ceiling that many Americans, including those who fought and died for voting rights, a more perfect union and just America, believed that they would never live to see it broken," said the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, who was among those who testified.

Other experts invited by the majority included Wade Henderson, the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Capt. Frederick Thomas, the national president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. The panel also heard from Richard Rosenthal, an attorney and a friend from Jackson's childhood.

"First, Ketanji wasn’t just a supernova national champion from our debate squad," Rosenthal recalled about their high school days. "She was also the unofficial leader of our tight-knit debate family, acting basically as a student coach and mentor for all the younger students. Outside in the grassy area between the school’s hallways, we would sit cross-legged on the ground, all of us in rapt attention, while Ketanji would stand and explain to us the keys to success, in particular the need for preparation, poise, discipline, and above all, hard work."

Henderson paid homage to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose Selma to Montgomery march took place 57 years ago this week. “As Dr. King said that day, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Today, we must all recognize that Judge Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court will bend that arc a little more," he said.

Witnesses invited by the minority included Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, anti-abortion activist Eleanor McCullen and Keisha Russell, a conservative lawyer who spoke out against critical race theory during her opening statement.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Jackson's most vociferous critics on the committee, did not participate in Thursday's proceedings.

"I've heard nothing this week to alleviate my fear that Judge Jackson believes that a fundamental redesign is needed in our criminal justice system and that she would be so inclined to use her position on the court to this end," said Marshall, who regurgitated attacks made by Republican senators about Jackson's sentencing record. "For this reason, I respectfully oppose her nomination."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., used his round of questioning to ask several of the GOP witnesses, including Marshall, if they were involved in the events surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Marshall repeatedly said he was not. Whitehouse also asked Marshall if Joe Biden is the "duly elected" president but he refused to answer, saying three times only that he is the "president of this country."

The final hearing came after two grueling days before the committee for Jackson, who faced questions from senators Tuesday and Wednesday following opening statements on Monday.

In addition to their attacks on Jackson concerning child pornography cases, Republicans also spent the hearings questioning her work as a public defender representing Guantanamo Bay detainees and delved into familiar, politically charged themes of immigration and “critical race theory.”

Democrats have defended Jackson's record and praised her qualifications and achievements.

“Judge Jackson, you are extraordinary. Your story is a great American story,” Dubin said as he concluded Wednesday's proceedings.