In the coming months, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will make history. She will be sworn in as the 116th appointed Justice to the Supreme Court. A prestigious title? Yes. But more importantly – especially for our nation – Judge Jackson will be the 1st black woman to serve on the Court.
But this momentous occasion did not come easy. In fact, it did more to highlight the reality that our judicial confirmation process is broken, maybe irrevocably. And so, the questions arise: what now, and how do we stem the tide of hypocrisy that seems more and more prevalent each time a Supreme Court seat opens up?
After President Biden’s initial nomination of Jackson on February, 2022, preparations were made and many braced for the inevitable next step: the Senate confirmation hearings. The hearings, which began on March 22, 2022, devolved into a partisan witch hunt, looking for any reason to deny Judge Jackson’s confirmation.
But many Republicans saw the writing on the wall. This is a Democratically controlled Senate, after all. And so, the committee hearings became less about Jackson’s qualifications – of which, Richard Burr, R-N.C., said she was “undoubtedly highly qualified, knowledgeable and experienced” – and more about political aspirations, accusations, and the airing of grievances.
During the contentious hearings, many Republican senators chose to use their questioning time to highlight key issues in a bid to curry favor and push their own political agendas, something Republicans took umbrage with when Democrats consistently brought up healthcare during the 2016 confirmation hearing of conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett. (Odd how it is all right to do when it is your agenda being pushed.) And when actually prompted to give a response on these issues (border policy, transgender athletes, and critical race theory), Jackson continued with a controlled and reserved approach, not giving Republicans the satisfaction of goading her into a debate of issues that many would admit are irrelevant to her work as a judge.
Moreover, when many of these issues were discussed, it was blatantly obvious that the Republicans were not holding their own conservative judges to the same standards as what they expected from Judge Jackson. For instance, Jackson’s refusal to speak out regarding court-packing (manipulating the size of the Supreme Court for partisan ends) has been a sticking point for many Republicans, an issue none of them raised concern over when, similar to Jackson, conservative Judge Barret said that the size of the court “is a question left open to Congress.”
When the time did come to discuss issues applicable to Judge Jackson’s nomination, Republicans spent much of the time accusing Jackson of being too lenient in cases involving child pornography, not only putting her record into question but also her character as well. Spearheaded by the likes of Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Senator Josh Hawley, R-MO, they accused her of sentencing the defendant below guidelines and disregarding the prosecutors’ sentences.”
In response, Jackson stated that she takes “these cases very seriously as a mother" and considers a variety of factors, including the recommendations of the parties involved, the evidence, the stories of the victims and other details. The Democratic Party defended Jackson’s decisions, stating that many sentences handed out pertaining to cases like this are below guidelines. Additionally, the Whitehouse would point out that there are judges appointed by Republican presidents who follow the same sentencing guidelines.
The hearings then devolved into nonsense. The Republicans, specifically Lindsey Graham, R-SC, decided to forgo the façade that this was actually going to be a measured and respectful hearing (but they promised?), and instead decided to attack the Democratic Party as a whole.
During the hearing, there were numerous implications that Republicans were not happy with how Democrats treated their conservative judicial nominations in the past. Those implications swiftly turned into outright accusations when Senator Graham decided to question Jackson about her religious beliefs and whether she could “fairly judge a Catholic[.]” In a not-so-subtle reference to the targeting of the religious beliefs of Judge (now Justice) Amy Coney Barrett during her 2017 appellate court confirmation hearings, he went on to say, “How would you feel if a senator up here said of your faith, ‘the dogma lives loudly within you and that’s of concern?’” With the irony completely lost on Senator Graham, he continued to do the exact same thing Republicans accused Democrats of doing to Judge Barret: attacking her faith and character.
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? It seems that regardless of political ideologies, hearings like these always seem to highlight a very problematic issue; many of these politicians forget their primary purpose: to serve the public, not just their own interests. Because of this, many of these hearings are no longer about the actual qualifications of the nominee, but instead become a grudge match between parties, doing what they can to ensure the rival party does not get what they want. Many times, this leads to attacks that Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill described as “…unfair, unrelenting and beneath the dignity of the United States Senate.”
So, maybe it is time to change the way we do things. As we witness more and more events like this most recent Supreme Court confirmation process, we get reminded that many of these politicians are getting further and further away from their purpose of serving this country and the citizens within it. It no longer becomes about the qualifications of a nominee and what is best for our country, but which party has more seats.