Confirmation hearings begin Monday for Ketanji Brown Jackson, the federal judge President Biden has picked to fill Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s seat when he retires this summer.
Democrats are hoping to finish Jackson’s confirmation process before Congress leaves for Easter recess April 11.
The hearings, led by the Senate Judiciary Committee, is set to last four days, with Jackson appearing in front of lawmakers during the first three. She’ll give an opening statement on Monday and then take questions from lawmakers on Tuesday and Wednesday. After a period that typically lasts a week or so after the hearings to consider the nomination, the committee will then hold a vote, and if approved, will send the nomination to the full Senate for consideration.
If confirmed, Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She heads into the hearings with a vast and expansive career as a judge and attorney.
The hearing process will last four days
Monday: The hearings begin at 11 a.m. EDT, with opening 10-minute statements from the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, along with the ranking member, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, according to a press release. The other 20 members of the committee will also give statements, and the day will conclude with Jackson delivering her opening statement, lasting 10 minutes.
Tuesday and Wednesday: Both days will begin at 9 a.m. EDT. Committee members will each get 30 minutes of questioning time on Tuesday and 20 minutes on Wednesday. Questioning of Jackson on Wednesday is expected to be shorter.
Thursday: Jackson won’t appear on the last day of the hearings. Beginning at 9 a.m. EDT, the committee will hear from outside witnesses and the American Bar Association.
NPR.org will provide live coverage and analysis of the hearings.
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Supreme Court confirmation hearings have a historical legacy
The Senate Judiciary Committee ultimately votes on whether to report out a nominee’s candidacy to the rest of the upper chamber for a final debate and vote, so the hearings are a high-profile step in the process. They help shape a nominee’s case and are where any reservations or important questions often come to light.
To her possible benefit, Jackson appeared in front of the same group of lawmakers just one year ago, when the committee reviewed her nomination for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Ultimately, the Senate confirmed Jackson, who also received yes votes from Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Lindsey Graham. Of those three, only Graham holds a spot on the Judiciary Committee.
Despite her strong candidacy and the semblance of bipartisan support shown last year, Jackson’s upcoming battle is expected to be more challenging. Though the confirmation process used to be seen as more of a cross-party effort, it’s morphed into a contentious and fiercely partisan process.
In 2017, Republicans exempted Supreme Court nominations from filibuster in hopes of quickly confirming Neil Gorsuch to the high court. The change meant Republicans could confirm him with just a simple majority vote instead of having to clear a 60-vote threshold — which they went on to do for both Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation votes.
Nearly 5 years later, Democrats would be able to use the policy change to their benefit. With a slim majority of 50 members and Vice President Kamala Harris presiding over the Senate, Democrats have enough support to confirm Jackson along party lines theoretically.
Despite support at the D.C. Circuit Court level, some Republicans remain undecided
No Republican senator publicly supports Jackson, who’s been meeting with Senate lawmakers over the past few weeks, a process customary with all Supreme Court nominees.
As for the Republicans who voted yes to her federal court nomination last year, Collins reported having a “lengthy and very productive conversation” with Jackson, but has still not publicly stated how she will vote.
Murkowski is more reserved, calling the process “a different game,” than when she voted to confirm Jackson to the D.C. Circuit Court.
“The difference is, you have nine people who sit on the highest court in the land, who are there for life, and it requires a level of review and scrutiny that is in line with the position,” Murkowski said.
“Just stay tuned for the hearing, and I’ll tell you how I vote when I vote,” Graham told reporters after a short meeting with Jackson, which he characterized as, “good.”
In the lead up to hearings, some Republicans are ramping up their attacks on Jackson
Republicans are likely to hone in on Jackson’s involvement in assigned cases relating to individuals imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay, when she was working as a public defender and in private practice.
Republicans have pressed her on this before, both during her confirmation hearing to serve on the D.C. circuit court last year and during her 2012 nomination to be a federal judge.
Specifically, when asked by Sen. Grassley in 2012, Jackson stood by her actions.
“In all of those situations,” Jackson said, “the views that were expressed were the views of my clients that I represented them in that capacity and the briefs did not necessarily represent my personal views with regard to the war on terror or anything else.”
In recent weeks, Republicans have come out even stronger against Jackson’s past criminal casework record, attempting to paint her as lenient on criminal offenses.
“Her supporters look at her resume and deduce a special empathy for criminals,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor last week.
“I guess that means that government prosecutors and innocent crime victims start each trial at a disadvantage. This isn’t my assertion. This is what the nominee’s liberal supporters are saying.” he added.
Last week, Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, publicly condemned Jackson’s work in cases relating to child sex crimes. In an extensive Twitter thread, the Missouri Republican accused her of “letting child porn offenders off the hook” when she was a federal judge, and he went on to post screenshots of past statements she made during these cases.
Sen. Durbin quickly denounced the claims – calling them “outrageous.” The White House characterized Hawley’s statements as misleading and deceptive.
“This is toxic and weakly-presented misinformation that relies on taking cherry-picked elements of her record out of context,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said, “it buckles under the lightest scrutiny.”