United States Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has shown the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon during her Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. She has discussed the law, and her deliberations as a judge, with the lucidity of a skilled educator. The problem is, some in the U.S. Senate neither wish to be educated nor have the capacity.
The committee hearings have witnessed the dog whistles of white supremacy, wild forays into irrelevance, and the kind of raw demagoguery that then-Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman James Eastland deployed on the first Black Americans nominated to the federal bench. It was a classless effort by Republicans to discredit a nominee who embodies class.
Witness this exchange: Seeking to link Judge Jackson to Critical Race Theory, Sen. Ted Cruz, R‑Texas, demanded: “Do you agree… that babies are racist?”
He posted blown-up images of a book by scholar Ibram X. Kendi, taken from the library of a private school in Washington, D.C., where Judge Jackson is a board member.
At the end of Monday’s hearing, Senator Marsha Blackburn, R‑Tennessee, went on a riff about transgender youth and posed this question: “Can you provide a definition of the word woman?”
“No, I can’t,” replied Jackson, as if it had any bearing on judicial duties.
“You can’t?” asked Blackburn, one of the Senate’s dimmest bulbs.
“I’m not a biologist,” said the judge.
As with other riffs, on subjects ranging from child pornography to antiracism education, Republicans were reaching to their base.
They were reaching low, coddling fantasies of the far right. There was a nastiness and ugliness on display in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.
The right’s mouthpieces and media were stoking hate.
“Ketanji Brown Jackson serve on board of school that promotes critical race theory,” ran an FNC headline. After the Blackburn exchange, Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel sneered on Twitter, “Democrats have gone from ‘Believe all women’ to ‘We don’t know what a woman is.’”
Jennifer Rubin, the conservative Washington Post columnist, summed it up well under the headline: “Fringe Republicans are not the problem. It’s the party’s mainstream.”
The writer and thinker Heather Cox Richardson cited a decade-old paper by Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institute and Norman Ornstein of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, which concluded:
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understandings of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
(Mann and Ornstein were writing in 2012. The Republicans’ nominee for President that year, Mitt Romney, is now in the Senate and twice voted to convict Donald Trump. Romney is now reviled in the party as a Republican In Name Only.)
Judge Jackson is a Harvard Law graduate, former federal public defender, clerked at the Supreme Court for the jurist she will replace – Justice Stephen Breyer – has served nine years as a U.S. District Court Judge, and is now on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
She is endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police.
She’s even a relative by marriage of former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Yet, here were Senate Republicans fanning the Q‑Anon conspiracy theory by charging that Jackson is “soft” on child sex abuse. Witness this false charge from Senator Ted Cruz, R‑Texas: “I believe you care for children, obviously your children and other children. But I also see a record of activism and advocacy as it concerns sexual predators that stems back decades, and that is concerning.”
“Advocacy?” The absurd charge has been dismissed as “meritless to the point of demagoguery” by the conservative magazine National Review. Yet, it was taken up again Wednesday morning by Senator Lindsay Graham, R‑South Carolina, who voted in favor of confirming Jackson to the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Judge Jackson tried to explain what goes into deciding such a case, notably sentencing guidelines set down by Congress, and penalties (e.g. restricted computer use) that stay with a defendant long after he/she has done time.
“These are some of the most difficult cases that a judge has to deal with because we are talking about pictures of sex abuse,” she told senators. “We are talking about graphic descriptions that judges have to read and consider.”
Graham strayed from porn to claim that Black conservatives have been persecuted for their views. Kicking off his questions on Tuesday, he wanted to know from Jackson: “What faith are you, by the way?”
Jackson is a non-denominational Protestant, prompting this followup from Graham: “Could you fairly judge a Catholic?” Graham asked Jackson to rate the importance of her faith “on a scale of one to ten.”
“Senator, personally, my faith is very important, but as you know, there’s no religious test in the Constitution,” Jackson replied.
Graham repeatedly interrupted Jackson, so often that Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin gave her a chance to respond on Wednesday when Graham’s time was up. Graham interrupted again, and then stormed out of the committee hearing.
The United States of America will get the Supreme Court Justice it deserves in Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman ever to be nominated to the body.
The country deserves better on Capitol Hill.
The United States Senate is a linchpin of the republic, yet in Marsha Blackburn, Ted Cruz, Lindsay Graham, Josh Hawley and Tom Cotton, it is populated by some people who represent the darker side of the American story.