Ketanji Brown Jackson spars with GOP in defense of record

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(WASHINGTON) — Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson took questions for nearly 13 hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, defending her record against an orchestrated Republican effort to brand it as “soft on crime” and liberal activism. She returns Wednesday morning for another round of all-day questioning.

Here are some top takeaways:

Pushback on child porn sentencing claims

Jackson mounted her first public rebuttal to charges by Republican Sen. Josh Hawley that she has a “long record” of letting child pornography offenders “off the hook” in sentences to the endangerment of children.

“Sentencing is a discretionary act of a judge, but it’s not a numbers game,” she said.

Hawley spent nearly 30 minutes scrutinizing Jackson’s 2013 decision to sentence an 18-year-old convicted of possessing child pornography to three months in prison — below the two years prosecutors had sought and far short of the up to 10 years in federal guidelines.

Jackson called the crime “heinous” and “egregious,” going on to explain the multifaceted process she was required to follow in devising a sentence that was “sufficient but not greater than necessary.”

“Congress has given judges not only the discretion to make the decision, but required judges to do so on an individualized basis,” she said, “taking into account not only the guidelines but also various factors, including the age of the defendant, the circumstances of the defendant, the terrible nature of the crime, the harm to the victims.”

Judicial ‘methodology,’ not a philosophy

Jackson resisted repeated attempts to classify her jurisprudence as emblematic of a particular “philosophy,” but she did delineate a “methodology” developed for deciding cases.

She laid out three steps she follows when receiving a case: first, “proceeding from a position of neutrality;” second, “evaluating all of the facts;” third, interpreting and applying the law to facts in the case.

Sen. Ben Sasse asked Jackson with which historical justice she’s most aligned. “If you had to tell the American people who you’re closest to, who are those justices?” he asked.

“I must admit that I don’t really have a justice they’ve molded myself after or that I would,” Jackson replied. “What I have is a record. I have 570-plus cases in which I have employed the methodology that I described and that shows people how I analyze cases.”

Defending her defense of accused terrorists

Jackson called her service as a federal public defender — including defense of accused terrorists held without charge at Guantanamo Bay — an act of “standing up for the constitutional value of representation.”

“People under our system are entitled to representation,” she said. “Federal public defenders don’t get to pick their clients. It’s a service.”

Jackson’s service extended into private practice, which Sen. Lindsey Graham scrutinized during a dramatic exchange with the nominee.

“What made you join the case?” he pressed. “If it’s not your position, why would you take the client?” Graham has long opposed efforts to win release for detainees from the post-9/11 war.

As part of her work, Jackson helped file a Supreme Court brief alleging on her client’s behalf that the U.S. government’s treatment “constitute(s) war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.”

Sen. John Cornyn later accused Jackson of branding former President George W. Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfed as “war criminals” in the brief, but the documents show no such direct or personal accusation was made.

Critical race theory and the law

They were “friendly” as Harvard Law classmates, but on Tuesday Sen. Ted Cruz sparred tensely with Jackson over critical race theory and its place in American academia and law.

“I’ve never studied critical race theory, and I’ve never used it. It doesn’t come up in the work that I do as a judge,” Jackson told Cruz.

Cruz attempted to get Jackson to explain CRT — an academic theory that racism is inherent in American society — and why it has appeared in the curriculum at Georgetown Day School, where she sits on the board.

Armed with poster board excerpts of books he said were used at the private school, Cruz pressed Jackson to address the messages they contained. “Do agree with this book that is being taught to kids that babies are racist?” he asked.

“I do not believe that any child should be made to feel as though they are racist or though they are not valued or though they are less than, that they are victims, that they are oppressors,” Jackson replied.

Hot button social issues: Guns, faith, abortion, same-sex marriage

Every modern Supreme Court nominee is asked about his or her position on some of the most hot-button social issues of the day. Jackson, like her predecessors, delicately answered to preserve her impartiality in future cases.

Asked about the Second Amendment, Jackson said, “The Supreme Court has established that the individual right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham asked point blank, “What faith are you?” Jackson said she is a nondenominational Protestant Christian whose faith is “very important” in her life.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are?” Graham continued. “How often do you go to church?” Jackson declined to discuss details of her faith practice.

Asked whether she supports a “traditional” view of marriage, Jackson said: “I am aware that there are various religious faiths that define marriage in a traditional way,” adding “these issues are being litigated, as you know … and so I’m limited in what I can say.”

Sen. John Kennedy asked the judge if she knows when life begins.

“I don’t know,” Jackson replied. “I have a religious view that I set aside when ruling on cases.”

Earlier in the hearing, she said that Roe vs. Wade was “settled law.”

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