UPDATE: McConnell meets SCOTUS nominee ahead of confirmation hearings
Democrats see 'no reason to wait' on Supreme Court vote
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Judiciary Committee said Wednesday that confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson will begin March 21, keeping the Senate on track for a possible final vote next month.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the committee chairman, announced the hearing schedule on Wednesday as Jackson was holding her first meetings with senators on Capitol Hill. Jackson met in the morning with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. She planned to see Durbin and the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, in the afternoon.
As is tradition, the hearings will last four days, with opening statements March 21 and testimony and questioning the next two days. The fourth day will include testimony from outside witnesses.
If confirmed, Jackson would be the first Black woman to serve as a justice in the court’s 200-plus year history. Breyer has said he won’t leave the bench until this summer, when the court’s session is over, but Democrats are still moving quickly, taking no chances in case there is any shift in a 50-50 Senate where Vice President Kamala Harris provides the deciding vote.
After Schumer and Jackson sat down in the Capitol to talk, Schumer said the Senate will move the nomination “fairly but expeditiously.”
He gushed about Jackson to reporters, saying she is “an optimistic person” who tries to see all sides of an issue. He said they spoke some about her judicial philosophy but mostly about her life and her family.
“You can see it when you meet her that she has real empathy,” Schumer said. “I think it’s very important in a judge because you’re having two sides clashing over whatever the issue is, to be able to empathize and walk in the other person’s shoes.”
Biden spoke about Jackson and honored Breyer in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday evening, calling the nominee “one of our nation’s top legal minds, who will continue Justice Breyer’s legacy of excellence.”
Jackson, 51, was confirmed last year as an appeals court judge in Washington after eight years on the district court. She once worked as one of Breyer’s law clerks and served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the agency that develops federal sentencing policy.
Biden said she was a “consensus builder,” noting her work as a private litigator and as a federal public defender, and that she comes from a family of public school educators and police officers.
In a 149-page questionnaire Jackson returned to the Senate committee this week, she disclosed that she was first contacted by the White House Jan. 30, three days after Breyer announced his retirement. Jackson, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, had long been seen as Biden’s top candidate for the job, which he had promised would go to a Black woman.
Jackson met with Harris in a video call on Feb. 11 and then interviewed with Biden at the White House on Feb. 14, she says in the questionnaire. Biden called and offered her the nomination on Feb. 24, a day before he made his decision public.
The questionnaire provides the committee with a record of every job she has held and the decisions she has made in her nine years as a federal judge, as well as any recusals and potential conflicts of interest. Senators and staff will be able to vet that information much more quickly than they would have for other candidates since they just considered her last year for her current position.
Jackson’s list of her most significant cases contains only one new entry from the appeals court, describing an opinion she wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel that came out in favor of labor unions.
Schumer and Durbin are still hoping to win some GOP votes for her confirmation, even though many Republicans have expressed skepticism that Jackson is too liberal. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were the only Republicans who voted to confirm Jackson to the appeals court last year.
While Collins has appeared open to voting for Jackson again, Murkowski said in a statement last week that her previous vote did not mean she would be supportive this time.
Graham had pushed for a different candidate from his home state, federal Judge J. Michelle Childs, and expressed disappointment that she was not Biden’s pick.
Schumer said after his meeting with Jackson that she is someone who should appeal to all sides, noting her past as a public defender and support from some police groups, for example.
He said he hopes that when Republicans meet her, “they will be as wowed as I was. She’s an amazing person.”
WASHINGTON (AP/WTVQ) — President Joe Biden on Friday will nominate federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, the White House said, making her the first Black woman selected to serve on a court that once declared her race unworthy of citizenship and endorsed segregation (video review here).
The announcement brought a largely negative comment from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, who while suggesting her record was questionable, did say he would be open minded.
In Jackson, Biden delivers on a campaign promise to make the historic appointment and to further diversify a court that was made up entirely of white men for almost two centuries. He has chosen an attorney who would be the high court’s first former public defender, though she also possesses the elite legal background of other justices.
She would also be only the sixth woman to serve on the court, and her confirmation would mean that for the first time four women would sit together on the nine-member court.
The current court includes three women, one of whom is the court’s first Latina, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Jackson would join the liberal minority of a conservative-dominated court that is weighing cutbacks to abortion rights and will be considering ending affirmative action in college admissions and restricting voting rights efforts to increase minority representation.
Biden is filling the seat that will be vacated by Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, who is retiring at the end of the term this summer.
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) issued the following statement this morning regarding Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson:
“I congratulate Judge Jackson on her nomination. I look forward to meeting with her in person and studying her record, legal views, and judicial philosophy,” McConnell said in his statement. “Senate Republicans believe the Court and the country deserve better than Senate Democrats’ routine of baseless smears and shameless distortions. The Senate must conduct a rigorous, exhaustive review of Judge Jackson’s nomination as befits a lifetime appointment to our highest Court. This is especially crucial as American families face major crises that connect directly to our legal system, such as skyrocketing violent crime and open borders.
“I voted against confirming Judge Jackson to her current position less than a year ago. Since then, I understand that she has published a total of two opinions, both in the last few weeks, and that one of her prior rulings was just reversed by a unanimous panel of her present colleagues on the D.C. Circuit. I also understand Judge Jackson was the favored choice of far-left dark-money groups that have spent years attacking the legitimacy and structure of the Court itself. With that said, I look forward to carefully reviewing Judge Jackson’s nomination during the vigorous and thorough Senate process that the American people deserve,” McConnell added.
Jackson, 51, once worked as one of Breyer’s law clerks early in her legal career. She attended Harvard as an undergraduate and for law school, and served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the agency that develops federal sentencing policy, before becoming a federal judge in 2013.
Her nomination is subject to confirmation by the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority by a razor-thin 50-50 margin with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaker. Party leaders have promised swift but deliberate consideration of the president’s nominee.
The news comes two years to the day after Biden, then struggling to capture the Democratic presidential nomination, first pledged in a South Carolina debate to nominate a Black woman to the high court if presented with a vacancy.
“Everyone should be represented,” Biden said. “We talked about the Supreme Court — I’m looking forward to making sure there’s a black woman on the Supreme Court to make sure we in fact get everyone represented.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin has said that he wants the Senate to move quickly on the nomination. Senators have set a tentative goal of confirmation by April 8, when they leave for a two-week spring recess. Hearings could start as soon as mid-March.
That timeline could be complicated by a number of things, including the ongoing developments between Russia and Ukraine and the extended absence of Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, who suffered a stroke last month and is out for several weeks. Democrats would need Lujan’s vote to confirm Biden’s pick if no Republicans support her.
Once the nomination is sent to the Senate, it is up to the Senate Judiciary Committee to vet the nominee and hold confirmation hearings. After the committee approves a nomination, it goes to the Senate floor for a final vote.
The entire process passes through several time-consuming steps, including meetings with individual senators that are expected to begin next week. While Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed just four weeks after she was nominated ahead of the 2020 election, the process usually takes several weeks longer than that.
Biden and Senate Democrats are hoping for a bipartisan vote on the nomination, but it’s unclear if they will be able to win over any GOP senators after three bitterly partisan confirmation battles under President Donald Trump. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of three Republicans who voted to confirm Jackson to the appeals court last year, had pushed Biden to nominate a different candidate from his home state, Judge J. Michelle Childs. He said earlier this month that his vote would be “very problematic” if it were anyone else.
Jackson was on the president’s short list as a potential nominee even before Breyer retired. Biden and his team spent weeks poring over her records, interviewing her friends and family and looking into her background.
Biden has said he was interested in selecting a nominee in the mold of Breyer who could be a persuasive force with fellow justices. Although Breyer’s votes tended to put him to the left of center on an increasingly conservative court, he frequently saw the gray in situations that colleagues were more likely to find black or white.
“With her exceptional qualifications and record of evenhandedness, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be a Justice who will uphold the Constitution and protect the rights of all Americans, including the voiceless and vulnerable,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. “The historic nomination of Judge Jackson is an important step toward ensuring the Supreme Court reflects the nation as a whole.”
As part of his search process, Biden, a longtime chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also interviewed Childs and California Supreme Court Judge Leondra Kruger, according to a person familiar with the matter. He also consulted with a wide range of legal experts and lawmakers in both parties and delved deeply into the finalists’ legal writings before selecting Jackson for the post.
Jackson serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a position that Biden elevated her to last year from her previous job as a federal trial court judge. Three current justices — Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and John Roberts, the chief justice — previously served on the same court.
On Friday morning ahead of the announcement, Jackson took part in scheduled arguments before the circuit court.
Jackson was confirmed to that post on a 53-44 Senate vote, winning the backing of three Republicans: Graham, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski.
Graham, in a tweet, indicated displeasure with the nomination, saying, “I expect a respectful but interesting hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
Bipartisanship is important to Biden, who has often said he was reaching for GOP support as he closed in on a nominee. Another GOP connection: Jackson is related by marriage to former House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
In one of Jackson’s most high-profile decisions, as a trial court judge she ordered former White House Counsel Don McGahn to appear before Congress. That was a setback to former President Donald Trump’s efforts to keep his top aides from testifying. The case was appealed, and a deal was ultimately reached for McGahn’s testimony.
Another highly visible case that Jackson oversaw involved the online conspiracy theory “pizzagate,” which revolved around false internet rumors about prominent Democrats harboring child sex slaves at a Washington pizza restaurant. A North Carolina man showed up at the restaurant with an assault rifle and a revolver. Jackson called it “sheer luck” no one was injured and sentenced him to four years in prison.
Jackson has a considerably shorter record as an appeals court judge. She was part of a three-judge panel that ruled in December against Trump’s effort to shield documents from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Jackson was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Miami. She has said that her parents, Johnny and Ellery Brown, chose her name to express their pride in her family’s African ancestry. They asked an aunt who was in the Peace Corps in Africa at the time to send a list of African girls’ names and they picked Ketanji Onyika, which they were told meant “lovely one.”
Jackson traces her interest in the law to when she was in preschool and her father was in law school and they would sit together at the dining room table, she with coloring books and he with law books. Her father became an attorney for the county school board and her mom was a high school principal. She has a brother who is nine years younger who served in the Army, including in Iraq, and is now a lawyer.
Associated Press writers Mark Sherman, Jessica Gresko and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.