Insulting senators, judicial philosophy and requests for documents: 5 takeaways from Jackson’s hearing


At the end of a 10-hour day, Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) decried some of his fellow Republicans for being, as he put it, “just vicious in their attacks.

“There was a promise that they would treat her with respect. Obviously a few of my colleagues didn’t get the memo,” Durbin said.

With the first vote on Jackson’s nomination about 10 days away, confirmation hearings likely haven’t changed their minds on either side of the Judiciary Committee dais.

Here’s our look at five key themes and moments from Jackson’s final day of grilling by the senators:

Jackson’s “West Wing” Moment

What “The West Wing” did for the White House, Jackson may have done on Wednesday for public defenders and worked for unpopular legal clients.

Liberal legal groups like Demand Justice have pushed the Biden White House to choose judicial nominees with a background in public defense and public interest law in hopes that these individuals will be friendlier on the bench to criminal defendants and defendants. left-wing causes.

However, Jackson did something Wednesday that went beyond that goal: Argue in a high-level forum that his work for criminal defendants and even Guantánamo prisoners was a noble calling on par with military service.

“I worked to protect our country. My brother worked on the front line, and all because public service is important to us, ”said the candidate.

Near the start of the one-day session, Jackson offered a soliloquy about why those representing what many Republicans on the panel called “terrorists” were actually making Americans safer.

“To defend our country and its values,” she said, “we also had to make sure that when we responded as a country to the terrible attacks of September 11, we respected our constitutional values, that we did not allow terrorists to win by changing who we are, and so I joined many lawyers at that time who were helping the courts determine the limits of executive authority in accordance with what the drafters told us is important, the limits of the government.

Later, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) asked Jackson if she would like to see everyone at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba released. This prompted another tough retort from the candidate.

“Senator, America would be less secure if we didn’t have terrorists running around attacking this country, absolutely,” she said. “America would also be safer in a situation where all of our constitutional rights are protected. The Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis. … Criminal defense attorneys ensure that in times of crisis the government follow the rules.

Does a judge—or a justice of the peace—need a philosophy?

It’s the question that has launched a thousand news stories and analytical articles about Jackson and a host of other High Court appointees: What is the nominee’s judicial philosophy?

During the two days of grilling, Republicans struggled to get a clear answer from Jackson to that question. Sometimes she seemed to say she had none. At other times, she tried to shift the question to something more to her liking.

“I have a philosophy. Philosophy is my methodology. It’s a philosophy that I developed from practice,” Jackson said, before giving a fairly mundane description of what most judges do: read the brief, listen to arguments from both sides, consider precedents and make a decision.

That kind of response didn’t seem to satisfy many Republicans, who expected Jackson to declare herself an original, textualist or, perhaps, like her mentor Justice Stephen Breyer, a living constitutional scholar. She avoided all of these labels and suggested at one point that they might be better suited to judges who come from academia.

“You wouldn’t claim any of those philosophies for yourself,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). “Any judicial philosophy is necessarily a contribution to your methodology for every judge in the court. It is important for us to unpack this. … I wish I had made more progress.

A Democrat said he was unfazed by Jackson’s noticeable lack of judicial philosophy.

“I don’t mind one bit,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a leading critic of “dark money” efforts to move the courts to the right. “It bothers me, the expectation that a Supreme Court nominee has a judicial philosophy. … A judicial philosophy can be a screen for a predisposition that judges, frankly, shouldn’t have. … I think it takes have integrity, a judicial temperament, but a philosophy? Where does that come from?

Attacks on Jackson excite allies

The intense attacks that some Republicans have launched against Jackson have left some of her supporters complaining that more should have been done to ensure she was treated with respect.

“These confirmation hearings are a test for us,” tweeted Aimee Allison of She The People, a group for Democrats of Color. “Black women and women of color are watching the attacks and the Dems’ relative disrespect and relative calm in response. Are Democrats ready and willing to fight for us, for our representation, for our issues? »

A series of divisive questions for Jackson from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that ended in an argument with Durbin drew the ire of the NAACP.

“It was outrageous. Judge Jackson deserves so much better than this,” the civil rights group said. wrote on Twitter.

As the hearings progressed, Democrats grew more critical of their GOP colleagues.

“You’ve faced insults here that shock me — well, actually, not shocking,” Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.) said.

At the end of the second and final day of questioning, Durbin said he believed most of his fellow Republicans had delivered on the promise of “fair and respectful” questioning, but he said some GOP senators had gone too far.

“There were a few obvious and glaring exceptions and I’m sorry about that,” the Illinois Democrat told Jackson. “Your patience, dignity and grace in the face of what was, frankly, offensive treatment is a true testament to your judicial temper.”

Cruz’s request for documents angers Durbin

A Supreme Court confirmation wouldn’t be a Supreme Court confirmation without a paperwork battle, and Republicans agreed on Wednesday. GOP senators reacted with outrage after learning that fellow Democrats and the White House had access to details of the probation office’s recommendations for some defendants convicted by Jackson.

Durbin sought to defuse the fight by giving Republicans a graph showing the data the White House got from Jackson over the weekend, but GOP senators said the numbers weren’t enough and demanded the full reports from the probation office on each of these cases.

Cruz, along with nine other Republicans, sent a letter to Durbin asking him to adjourn the nomination hearing until he produces “all documents and information that [he had] regarding sentencing and probation recommendations in Judge Jackson’s criminal cases that were not shared with Republican members of the Committee.

Although substantive recommendations are generally public, probation documents are kept under seal in court records and Durbin argued that obtaining those records could end up “endangering the lives of innocent people.”

“I’m sorry, that’s a bridge too far for me. … It’s gone too far, too far,” Durbin said, saying the GOP members were on a fishing expedition.

“The idea of ​​making these pre-sentence reports available for this political environment and being available for public consumption is reprehensible and dangerous,” he told reporters after the hearing.

A Republican on the Judiciary Committee did not sign Cruz’s letter: Sasse. James Wegmann, a spokesman for Sasse, said Cruz raised “an important process issue about document production.” He added that Sasse “stated at the start of this hearing that he was going to continue to delve into Justice Jackson’s judicial philosophy because, as an originalist, he believes that judicial philosophy is the central issue in this appointment.” .

Senate Curse

As emotions ran high at Jackson’s hearing, senators unleashed a barrage of invective that at times bordered on outright blasphemy.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) fumed during Tuesday’s session over what he said were legal arguments made by Jackson questioning the US government’s right to detain terrorism suspects as than prisoners under the laws of war.

“Look at this fucking Afghan government! It’s made up of former detainees,” Graham said, just after saying he’d like to see the roughly 40 men still at Guantanamo detained forever. “I hope they all die in prison if they kill Americans.”

At one point, when Graham accused Jackson of being too light on sentencing for child pornography, he said the best way to deter individuals from viewing child pornography on a computer was to “put their ass in prison, not to supervise their use of the computer”.

Whitehouse – who gets very hot under the collar when discussing what he sees as the capture of the Supreme Court by right-wing financial interests – also cursed slightly when observing that former Senator Orrin Hatch noted that the Then-President Donald Trump had been accused of outsourcing his judicial screening process to the Federalist Society.

“I say: damn it! Whitehouse exclaimed.

On Wednesday, Graham was hurt again while protesting Jackson’s sentencing for child pornography defendants. “We’re trying to get people to stop this shit!” He shouted.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is not on the Judiciary Committee, but he also spoke choice terms when asked Wednesday about Sen. Josh Hawley’s (R-Mo.) efforts to argue that Jackson was too nice. to “child predators”.

“I think it’s bullshit. Look at the source,” Tester told POLITICO. “The guy is running for president and he’s saying weird things.”

And while Sasse complained that many of his colleagues were indulging in fake outrage, he managed to use some colorful language himself.

“Part of the jackassery that we often see here is because people get mugged for short-term camera opportunities,” he said while arguing for the Supreme Court to keep its closing arguments off. of television.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.


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