Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, on Tuesday defended her past legal representation of Guantanamo Bay detainees and rejected Republican accusations that she had been lenient as a judge in child pornography cases.
On a contentious second day of her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Jackson pledged to be an independent jurist who would not inject her own views into rulings as Democratic senators rallied to her defence.
Several Republican senators focused their queries on child pornography, accusing Jackson of giving lenient sentences to offenders. Jackson rejected this, saying that in most of these cases she delivered sentences consistent with or higher than the recommendations of probation officers. In each such case, she said, “I did my duty to hold the defendants accountable.”
Jackson said that as a mother herself, she has found the cases involving sexual crimes against children particularly harrowing. “These are the cases that wake you up at night because you’re seeing the worst of humanity,” Jackson said.
Jackson also said her past legal representation of detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was consistent with American values of fairness.
Nominated by Biden in February to become the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s top judicial body, Jackson has served since last year as a federal appellate judge after eight years as a federal district court judge.
Her confirmation would not change the court’s ideological balance – a 6-3 conservative majority – but would let Biden freshen its liberal bloc with a 51-year-old justice who could serve for decades in the lifetime post. Biden nominated Jackson to succeed retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer.
With a simple majority needed for confirmation and the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties, she would get the job if Democrats remain united in the vote.
Republican Senators Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Tom Cotton asked questions focusing on child pornography and sexual predators. They said Jackson as a trial judge in child pornography cases delivered sentences below recommendations in federal sentencing guidelines.
“I’m questioning how you used your discretion in these cases,” Hawley told Jackson.
Federal judges routinely impose penalties below advisory guidelines in cases involving defendants who do not themselves produce child pornography, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which has urged Congress to address inconsistencies resulting in penalties sometimes too lenient and sometimes too severe.
Sentencing experts in a March 20 letter to the committee deemed Jackson’s sentencing in such cases “squarely within the mainstream of federal district court judges nationally.”
Cruz also accused Jackson of “a record of activism and advocacy as it concerns sexual predators” dating back to her time in law school in 1996 when she wrote a paper discussing sexual offender registries. Jackson pushed back, saying “those are not the sentiments I expressed.
Pedophilia has become a theme among far-right activists on social media and of the unfounded QAnon conspiracy theory, whose followers cast elite liberals and Democrats as a cabal of Satanist child-sexual predators.
Jackson worked from 2005 to 2007 as a court-appointed lawyer paid by the government to represent criminal defendants who could not afford counsel, including four Guantanamo detainees. She later continued representing one of the detainees in private practice.
Jackson called the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States tragic but defended her representation of detainees captured afterward, saying: “We couldn’t let the terrorists win by changing who we were fundamentally.”
Jackson outlined her judicial philosophy, saying she has developed a methodology that allows to her rule impartially.
“I’m acutely aware that as a judge in our system I have limited power and I try to stay in my lane,” Jackson told Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, the committee’s chairman.
Republican senators also sought to tie Jackson to “critical race theory,” which argues American history and institutions are infused with racial bias. Cruz tried to link Jackson to certain books available to students at Georgetown Day School, a private school in Washington where Jackson serves on the board. Jackson said the theory does not come up in her work as a judge.
Jackson declined to weigh in on calls from some on the left to expand the court’s number of justices to erase its current conservative majority, calling it “a policy question for Congress.” Justice Amy Coney Barrett in her 2020 confirmation hearing also declined to opine on the issue.
If confirmed, Jackson would be the 116th justice to serve on the high court, the sixth woman and the third Black person. The court also would have for the first time four women and two Black justices.
Jackson said she has received messages from girls around the country saying her nomination has made them think about the law in new ways “because I am a woman and a Black woman.”
“We want, I think, as a country for everyone to believe that they can do things like sit on the Supreme Court,” Jackson told Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. “And so having meaningful numbers of women and people of colour, I think, matters. I also think it supports public confidence in the judiciary when you have different people because we have such a diverse society.”
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