Ketanji Brown Jackson's political circus Supreme Court hearing
With Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court all but a foregone conclusion, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee used their time in the spotlight to play their party's greatest hits and stoke the culture wars.
Why it matters: As far as congressional hearings go, Supreme Court confirmations are prime time. They afford committee members a golden opportunity to push pet issues or sharpen their images before the national electorate — often while ignoring the actual nominee.
- Three senators who sat on the panel and questioned Supreme Court picks during the Trump administration — now-Vice President Kamala Harris and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — later mounted bids for the presidency.
Driving the news: The first three days of Jackson’s Supreme Court hearings were a medley of message-testing and political jockeying.
- Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) harshly scrutinized Jackson’s sentencing record, questioning her about child pornography and casting her as overly sympathetic to sex offenders amid a backlash against criminal justice reformers.
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) embraced an issue that's become central to GOP messaging. He hammered on critical race theory, holding up a book called “Antiracist Baby” and asking Jackson, “Do you agree … that babies are racist?”
- Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked Jackson to "provide a definition of the word ‘woman,'" as GOP governors grapple with legislation restricting transgender participation in youth sports.
- On the Democratic side, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) used some of his time to continue his years-long crusade against “dark money” in judicial politics.
Between the lines: Hawley, Cruz, Cotton and Blackburn are all seen as prospective 2024 Republican presidential candidates.
- Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a Trump critic who is also a potential 2024 candidate, delivered a counter-message when he followed Cruz on Wednesday. He said bluntly, "I think we should recognize that the jacka--ery we often see around here is partly because of people mugging for short-term camera opportunities."
- A number of committee members were noticeably absent on Day 4 of the hearings.
- Jackson was no longer on the stand, network television was focused on President Biden's trip to Europe — and the American Bar Association officials and other third-party witnesses were testifying about Jackson's qualifications.
What they’re saying: "I think that some of my colleagues were inappropriate. ... They, sadly, were too willing to abdicate their responsibility to advise and consent for the sake of cheap and short-term political purposes,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) told Axios.
- “I think that’s a disservice to the whole process,” he said, adding that Jackson “displayed amazing grace throughout” the hearings.
What’s next: Jackson likely has the votes she needs to get confirmed by the 50-50 Senate, and Republicans are ruling out delay tactics.
- The idea of boycotting the committee vote was floated, but such a move would require buy-in from all Republicans on the panel — some of whom have already dismissed it.