History was made last week when Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed as the first ever Black woman to serve as a United States Supreme Court judge. But her confirmation hearings were marred by baseless verbal attacks from Republican Senators. Why did they do it?
Hello, I‚Äôm Tomini and this is the Sensemaker, from Tortoise.
One story, every day, to make sense of the world.
Today, America has chosen its first ever Black, female, supreme court justice.¬†
But Ketanji Brown Jackson‚Äôs confirmation hearings were marred by aggressive questioning from Republican Senators.
‚ÄúThis is a wonderful day, a joyous day and an exciting day for the Senate, the Supreme court and the United States of America.‚ÄĚChuck Schumer, Senate majority leader
April 7th was a historic day for the United States.¬†
It was the day that Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed by the Senate as the next Supreme Court Justice.¬†
‚ÄúIn our nation‚Äôs history, one hundred fifteen individuals have been confirmed by this body to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Of those, one hundred eight have been white men. Only five have been women. Only two have been African American. But Ketanji Brown Jackson will be the first African American woman ever to hold the title of ‚ÄúJustice.‚ÄĚ Think about the impact that will have on our democracy.‚ÄĚChuck Schumer
Black women are underrepresented across the US judicial system. But with Ketanji Brown Jackson‚Äôs confirmation, they will, for the first time, be represented in the highest court in the land.
A body that rules on some of America‚Äôs most contentious issues like gun control and abortion rights. The arbiter of the US constitution.
And she hopes her success will encourage younger generations:
‚ÄúI hope to inspire people to try to follow this path, because I love this country. Because I love the law. Because I think it is important that we all invest in our future.‚ÄĚKetanji Brown Jackson
¬†Her nomination was a significant, symbolic moment ‚Äď and a happy one for many.
But the process to get Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed was symbolic for a different reason.
During the weeks of confirmation hearings, we saw Republican Senators picking over her past legal decisions and questioning her record as judge and as a public defender.
They tried to paint her as soft on child sex abusers‚Ä¶
‚ÄúJudge, in the Stewart case, you said from the bench: ‚ÄėThus, although this is not necessarily an a-typical case, your child pornography possession crime was egregious in the court‚Äôs view.‚Äô Okay, so this is a bad one. If you‚Äôre actually sentencing defendants, you said this was egregious. What did you sentence Stewart for? ‚Ä¶.why did you sentence him for half the amount?‚ÄĚTed Cruz
And to portray her as sympathetic to terrorists‚Ä¶
Marsha Blackburn, Senator of Tennesee
‚ÄúYou used your time and talent not to serve our nation‚Äôs veterans or other vulnerable groups, but to provide free legal services to help terrorists get out of Gitmo and go back to the fight.‚ÄĚ
A lot of what they were accusing her of was misleading‚Ä¶and sometimes totally unfair and false.
For example, her sentencing decisions on child pornography cases were actually well within the average for other judges.
And her previous job as a public defender meant it was her duty to serve the clients she was assigned without prejudice‚Ä¶even clients who were imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay‚Ä¶ A notorious detention camp used by the US government to imprison suspected terrorists after the attacks on September the 11th.
All the way along, Ketanji Brown Jackson defended her record and corrected spurious lines of questioning.¬†
‚ÄúI was doing what judges do: exercise discretion, as Congress has required us to do, take into account all of the various aspects of a particular case and make the determination consistent with my authority, my judgment.‚ÄĚKetanji Brown Jackson
She was reasoned and rational.¬†
But still the interrogation kept coming‚Ä¶. So what were Republicans aiming to do?
The questioning by Republican Senators was never going to have that much impact on the outcome of the hearings, not least because their allegations had no bearing on Ketanji Brown Jackson‚Äôs fitness to do the job of a Supreme Court Judge.¬†
The Democrat majority in the Senate also meant that Ketanji Brown Jackson‚Äôs confirmation has been a pretty sure thing ever since President Joe Biden nominated her for the job.
So what, then, was the point of the Republican attacks?
Some commentators think it was a cynical play to give airtime to specific Republican talking points:
‚ÄúThey‚Äôve been using these hearings as a way to kind of test drive some of their midterm messages. And they‚Äôve really focused on themes of surrounding crime. They focused on her sentencing of child sex offenders. They have focused on her representing of detainees at Guantanamo bay. They‚Äôve brought up critical race theory. So you could see the hearings as a platform for Republicans to really push forward these messages.‚ÄĚ
With midterm elections coming up in November, Republican Senators were saying things designed to fire up their traditional voter base.
They pushed ‚Äúculture war‚ÄĚ talking points about gender and critical race theory.
And the talk about a liberal judge being ‚Äúsoft‚ÄĚ on child sex abuse strongly echoed the QAnon conspiracy theory‚Ä¶ A theory pedalled by the far-right about a ‚Äúcabal of paedophiles‚ÄĚ at the heart of the Democrat political establishment.
The Republicans did their utmost to discredit Ketanji Brown Jackson in the eyes of their followers.¬†
And they used the televised confirmation hearings as an opportunity to rehearse Republican attack lines ahead of those crucial elections later in the year.¬†
But their cynicism cannot diminish Ketanji Brown Jackson‚Äôs remarkable legal career ‚Äď and her achievement in becoming a Supreme Court Judge.¬†
Today‚Äôs story was written and produced by Ella Hill
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