Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson talked "dark money," Guantanamo Bay, sentencing, and critical race theory during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Republicans deployed a dual-track opposition strategy. Some used their time to criticize Democrats without engaging directly with Jackson's record. Others peppered the judge with pointed questions about her sentencing record on child pornography cases.
The 22 lawmakers on the committee questioned the judge over two rounds. The first began Tuesday and lasted 30 minutes each, running late into the night. The committee moved to a second round of 20 minutes of questions on Wednesday morning. These are the punchiest exchanges so far.
Hawley to KBJ: Do You Regret Giving a Child Pornographer a Three-Month Sentence?
Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) continued his push on Jackson's sentences in child pornography cases. One case featuring prominently in the questioning involved an 18-year-old convicted for possessing hundreds of images of child pornography. Jackson gave him a three-month sentence. The judge's allies say her sentencing is broadly in line with those of other federal judges. Republicans counter that legal elites should take the crime more seriously. Congress is exploring reforms to the federal sentencing guidelines for sex crimes.
Republicans Push for Pre-Sentence Reports
Republicans are pushing to confidentially obtain copies of pre-sentence reports in child pornography cases Jackson has handled. Those reports are produced by career professionals in a speciality unit and are not public. Jackson gave Republicans an opening when she said judges rely on a range of factors—including the pre-sentence reports—when handing down criminal penalties while defending her record on child pornography cases.
For his part, Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, was hostile to the Republican request. He noted the reports contain highly sensitive information about innocent third parties, including victims.
"I do not want it weighing on my conscience that I gave the greenlight to release this information so that it might endanger the lives of innocent victims. I'm sorry, that's a bridge too far for me," Durbin said.
KBJ Doesn't Know What A Woman Is
A viral moment came late Tuesday evening when Judge Jackson declined to give a definition of a woman in an exchange with Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.). The tense back and forth began when Blackburn read an excerpt of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's opinion in U.S. v. Virginia, a Supreme Court case that held the Virginia Military Institute could not lawfully exclude female cadets.
"Physical differences between men and women are enduring," Ginsburg wrote. "The two sexes are not fungible. A community made up exclusively of one sex is different from a community composed of both."
Jackson said she wasn't familiar with the quote, prompting Blackburn to ask the judge if she could "provide a definition for the word woman."
Grassley Presses KBJ On Whitehouse and 'Dark Money'
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), the ranking Republican on the committee, got Jackson to reject Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's (D., R.I.) longstanding contention that the Supreme Court is in the pocket of big business.
Whitehouse has for years pushed the view that the Court's conservative majority dutifully serves monied Republican interests because they were groomed by conservative legal organizations who are bankrolled by right-wing "dark money."
"I don't have any reason to believe that that's the case," Jackson said. "I have only the highest esteem for the members of the Supreme Court."
KBJ Dodges Questions About Court Packing
Grassley also pushed Jackson on the left-wing campaign to pack the Supreme Court. Those efforts stalled after President Joe Biden’s commission on court reform declined to endorse the move. Jackson dodged, citing Justice Amy Coney Barrett's refusal to engage the matter during her 2020 confirmation hearings.
Graham Defends Bush-Era Detention System
Jackson advocated for detainees at Guantanamo Bay as a federal public defender and later as a lawyer in private practice.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) didn't fault the judge for that work, but he vigorously defended the Bush-era detention system and had hot exchanges with Durbin when Durbin suggested the recidivism rate of Guantanamo detainees wasn't as high as Graham contended.
Cruz Asks KBJ About the 1619 Project
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) grilled Jackson over citations she made to New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, the prime force behind the 1619 Project. The 1619 Project purports to show, among other things, that preserving slavery was a prime cause of the American Revolution. Cruz also asked the judge about her service on the board of a school that recommends books including critical race theorist Ibram X. Kendi's Antiracist Baby.
"I do not believe any child should be made to feel they are racist, or oppressors or victims," Jackson replied, adding her service on the board of the school did not encompass the content of the curriculum.
Hawley Asks KBJ Why She Apologized to a Pedophile
Hawley pressed Jackson to explain why she once apologized to a sex offender while handing down a sentence. Hawley quoted Jackson saying, "I feel terrible about the collateral consequences of this conviction," before adding that "sex offenders are truly shunned in our society." When Hawley asked, "Is he a victim, is that your view here?" Jackson equivocated, saying, "I don't have the entire record in front of me."
The Washington Free Beacon will update this story as the hearings continue.