On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held its first day of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, which consisted mostly of lengthy opening statements from committee members and, at long last, the nominee. Committee Chair Dick Durbin of Illinois aptly described the proceedings as “throat-clearing warmup” for the questioning she will face in the days ahead.
“If I am confirmed, I commit to you that I will work productively to support and defend the Constitution, and this grand experiment of American democracy that has endured over these past 246 years,” Jackson said. “I have been a judge for nearly a decade now. I take that responsibility and my duty to be independent very seriously.” She also explained why her opinions as a lower court judge are often on the longer side: “I believe in transparency—that people should know precisely what I think and the basis for my decision.”
Notably, Jackson was introduced by Thomas Griffith, a retired judge nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by President George W. Bush. Griffith acknowledged that it might surprise some to hear a Republican-appointed judge “enthusiastically endorse” a Democratic president’s Supreme Court pick, but reiterated that he had no reason to withhold it. “There should be nothing unusual about my support for a highly qualified nominee who has demonstrated through her life’s work her commitment to the rule of law and an impartial judiciary,” he said.
Republicans in attendance did not share Griffith’s sentiments. Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn questioned Jackson’s decision to work as a federal defender, which she characterized as “using your time and talents to provide free legal representation to terrorists.” Texas’s John Cornyn called her “zealous advocacy” for people detained at Guantanamo as having “gone beyond the pale.” Missouri’s Josh Hawley ran through a truncated version of his QAnon-curious screed about Jackson’s sentencing record for child pornography offenders, which Vox’s Ian Millhiser called “false,” “stunningly inflammatory,” and “genuinely nauseating.”
Iowa’s Chuck Grassley invented a dubious distinction between “Bill of Rights attorneys who want to protect defendants’ constitutional rights,” which he presumably views as acceptable, and criminal defense lawyers who “want to undermine laws they have policy disagreements with.” Like so many of his Republican colleagues, Grassley managed to reframe a public defender’s duty to zealously advocate on behalf of indigent people as the hallmark of a lawless desperado. As New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker would later note, by rights, public defenders should be considered among the most “honorable” lawyers in the profession.
Monday’s preview of the shallow, scattershot attacks to come reflect the fact that the GOP doesn’t have a substantive gripe with Jackson or her record as a judge. (Blackburn’s rant in particular, which included a bizarre tangent about trans student athletes and locker rooms, reeked of desperation.) It appears that GOP senators have largely accepted the thrust of Griffith’s statement: There is nothing controversial about supporting a nominee like Jackson. Their performances can instead be best understood as a loud but irrelevant competition to get the zestiest Fox News evening soundbite.