Takeaways from the Ketanji Brown Jackson Marathon Confirmation Hearing

By Tierney Sneed, CNN

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s first full day of interrogations included explanations of her approach as a judge, discussions of abstract legal concepts that can be central in controversial Supreme Court cases, and her defense of a case. sentencing that Republicans said was not severe enough. certain offences.

Democrats have given Jackson plenty of opportunities to fend off GOP attacks, while letting her discuss the background that will make her a unique addition to the Supreme Court.

Republicans, who vowed Monday to strike a high tone in the debates, nonetheless questioned Jackson on issues that resonate with their culture war message ahead of this year’s midterms.

Here are the key takeaways from Tuesday’s 12+ hour session:

Jackson gives insight into how she approaches her job

Facing skepticism from the GOP for not aligning herself with a specific judicial philosophy, Jackson offered new details about how she approaches her job and the “methodology” she uses to decide a case.

“I am fully aware that as a judge in our system I have limited power and I try to stay in my lane in any case,” she said.

The three-step process she described involved clearing her mind of any preconceived notions about the case, receiving the various inputs — the written submissions, the factual record, the hearings — that she will need to decide a case and embark on an interpretation of the law that respects “the constraints” of his role as a judge.

She said she was trying to “understand what the words mean as they were intended by the people who wrote them”.

This description of his methodology was not enough to answer Republican questions about his judicial philosophy, which refers to the type of framework a judge uses to analyze a case of constitutional interpretation. An originalist approach, which is favored by conservatives, seeks to interpret the Constitution by the way the framers would have understood the words at the time they were written. Some progressives have sought to chart what has been called a “Living Constitution” approach, which seeks to interpret the general principles of the Constitution in a way applicable to contemporary circumstances.

Even as she answered Republican Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse’s questions about dueling approaches, Jackson declined to align herself explicitly with either, noting that constitutional interpretation doesn’t often come up in debates. cases she tried as a lower court judge.

Jackson pushes back on claims about his child pornography case file

Jackson finally had a chance on Tuesday to respond to the most controversial allegations against her, telling the allegations committee that she’s soft on child porn offenders that “nothing could be further from the truth.”

“These are some of the toughest cases a judge has to deal with,” Jackson said when first given the chance by Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin to respond to the claims, which were brought last week by Missouri GOP Senator Josh Hawley.

Later in the hearing, she said she was still having nightmares about the witness in one of the cases Republicans are currently reviewing, adding, “These crimes are, are horrific. And so I take them very seriously, as I have done all crimes, but especially crimes against children.

Republicans have focused on what they say is Jackson’s tendency to hand down sentences in these cases that fall below sentencing guidelines — a pattern that puts her in the mainstream of justices. Less than a third of sentences handed down in non-production child pornography cases met the guidelines in 2019.

When grilled by Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Jackson noted that the guidelines are just a starting point for judges.

“Congress is the body that tells sentencing judges what they’re supposed to look at and Congress has said a judge doesn’t play a numbers game,” Jackson said.

“The judge looks at all of these different factors and makes a decision in each case, based on a number of different considerations,” she added. “And in all cases, I have done my duty to hold the defendants accountable in light of the evidence and information presented to me.”

The sharpest line of questioning on this topic came from Hawley, who focused on a particular case where Jackson sentenced the offender to three months in a case where prosecutors were asking for 24 months and the guidelines were for 97 to 121 months.

Jackson said that in the cases, she did what the judges did and took “into consideration all the different aspects of a particular case and rendered a decision consistent with my authority, my judgment and with a full understanding of the nature flagrant of the crime”.

GOP addresses culture war issues ahead of midterms

The broad culture war topics that Republicans are hitting on Democrats ahead of midterms have made their way into GOP questions for Jackson.

Cruz asked Jackson several questions about “critical race theory” — a concept she said “doesn’t show up in my work.”

“It’s never something that I studied or leaned on, and it wouldn’t be something I would lean on if I was on the Supreme Court,” she said. .

Cruz attempted to connect him to Jackson through a presentation she made as Vice Chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, in which Jackson said she listed her on a “laundry list different academic disciplines that I believe are related to sentencing policy”. He also brought it up in the context of the children’s books taught at Georgetown Day School, where Jackson sits on the board. Jackson said the board does not control the school’s curriculum.

Senator John Cornyn, a fellow Republican from Texas, spent a significant portion of his question period asking Jackson about the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on same-sex marriage, and whether the opinion was based on a legal principle that “allows the court to substitute its opinion for the people’s elected officials.

Cornyn suggested the case could be seen as: ‘We, the five members of the Supreme Court, are going to decide what the law of the land should be, and anyone who disagrees with us will be branded a fanatic or charged of discrimination, even if these, their beliefs happen to derive from a sincere religious conviction, such as the definition of a, of a marriage between a man and a woman.

And a series of questions from Arkansas GOP Senator Tom Cotton leaned heavily on Jackson’s crime-fighting beliefs, asking him about whether the United States needs more police, if enough murderers were jailed and the sentences for drug-related crimes.

Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, as part of a larger inquiry into how the courts enshrine rights not explicitly in the Constitution, asked if a judge could conclude that there is a constitutional right for a “woman transgender to participate in women’s sports. ”

Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, also raised the issue of transgender athletes, after asking Jackson to define the word female. “The fact that you can’t give me a straight answer on something as fundamental as what a woman is underscores the dangers of the kind of progressive education we hear about.”

Abstract questions attempt to indicate how she would approach controversial cases

Like Sasse’s interest in her judicial philosophy, other GOP senators probed Jackson’s approach to abstract legal ideas that sound academic but could be central to how she would decide controversial cases.

Cornyn raised the concept of “unenumerated rights” — that is, rights that are not explicitly written into the text of the Constitution, but which the court has interpreted to be covered by the protections of the Constitution.

Utah Senator Mike Lee also focused some of his questions on the Ninth Amendment. His language contemplates unenumerated rights, and he asked Jackson how judges should go about assessing what rights might arise.

The concept of stare decisis also came up repeatedly, including in questions from Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who noted it in the context of abortion rights rulings. Stare decisis dictates that the Supreme Court consider several factors before deciding to overturn the precedent in order to limit the dramatic swings in the law that undermine its stability.

“I think it plays a very important role as a doctrine that prevents change from happening in court,” Jackson said. “It’s very important to have stability in the law for rule of law purposes so that people can order themselves and predict their lives given what the Supreme Court has already said.”

In recent Supreme Court decisions overturning precedents, the Liberal minority accused the Conservative majority of ignoring some of the principles of stare decisis to overturn precedents that conservatives do not like.

Jackson reflects on the values ​​she learned from her family

After several opening statements Monday highlighted the unique background that Jackson — as the first black female appointee — would bring to the Supreme Court, Tuesday gave the judge the opportunity to discuss that background in detail.

Part of the context for his parents’ decision to move from Miami to Washington before he was born was civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s.

“My parents moved to Washington, DC, because that’s where it all started, for them, in terms of having new freedoms,” Jackson said, as she discussed ‘hard work’ values. and “perseverance” she had learned from them. .

She said her grandparents, who didn’t have ‘much formal education’, were the ‘hardest working people I’ve ever known who got up every day, put one foot after another and provided for their families and made sure their children went to college, even though they never had those opportunities.

She said she reflects on her grandparents at this historic moment.

“I stand on the shoulders of people of this generation,” she said.

This story was updated with new developments on Tuesday.

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