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Supreme Court nominee heads to Senate for confirmation process

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will begin meetings with senators

Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 28, 2021.
Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 28, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Ketanji Brown Jackson will meet with senators at the Capitol for the first time Wednesday about her nomination to the Supreme Court, as both parties sharpen their approach to the quick confirmation process Democrats have planned over the next few weeks.

Democrats and their allies appear ready to emphasize Jackson’s qualifications and background. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said there would be a “fair but expeditious process where members from both sides will get to ask their questions and explore the judge’s record.”

The New York Democrat will be among the first to meet with the current federal appeals court judge in Washington who he says “encapsulates the two B’s: brilliant and beloved.”

“I’ve been doing a lot of reading on Judge Jackson over the last month, and I cannot recall any one of her colleagues, anyone from her private life or anyone in the public sphere say anything negative about her,” Schumer said Monday on the Senate floor. “It’s amazing. That’s how fine a person she is, and how fine a mind she has.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled Tuesday that Republicans and their allies might focus the confirmation on wider issues around the legal system. Jackson will also meet Wednesday with McConnell, who said he will be asking her about “major crises” that American families face involving the legal system, such as violent crime, immigration and religious freedom.

“What’s more, one of our two major sides increasingly makes noise about attacking the very legitimacy and structure of the Supreme Court itself,” McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor.

McConnell also said he was troubled by Jackson’s “slim” record as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — she has authored two opinions since her confirmation to the court last year — and what he called her “far-left, dark money fan club.”

“Judge Jackson has attracted loyal and intense support for some of the very same dark-money, far-left activists who’ve declared war on the institution of the court itself,” McConnell said. “One has to wonder why these left-wing organizations work so very hard to boost Judge Jackson for this potential promotion.”

‘Dark money’ debate

That refers mostly to Demand Justice, part of a nonprofit that uses tax laws and federal rules to keep donations anonymous, which announced a $1 million ad campaign to support Jackson’s high court nomination.

The group, led by former Schumer aide Brian Fallon, said its first ad quotes media reports calling Jackson “brilliant and meticulous” with “top-flight academic qualifications” and “truly exceptional,” as it “touts the fact that she has been confirmed by the Senate on a bipartisan basis three times in the past.”

McConnell’s criticism of dark money in Supreme Court confirmations does not come without irony, as he has played a leading role in legal challenges to campaign finance laws that many cite as the cause of a flood of special interest money in politics.

Add to that the fact that the conservative Judicial Crisis Network nonprofit got two separate $17 million contributions to back two of former President Donald Trump’s high court appointments, which has sparked calls for overhauls from Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and others.

The group, led by Carrie Severino, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, spent $1.4 million alone for a one-week advertising campaign during Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation process ahead of the 2018 congressional elections.

“With the intended nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, Joe Biden has made it clear that his top priority is paying back the left-wing dark money network that spent over one billion dollars to help elect him and Senate Democrats,” Severino tweeted last week.

Amy Kurtz, president of the Sixteen Thirty Fund that is part of what Severino alluded to in that tweet, invited the Judicial Crisis Network to join them in an overhaul to limit the influence of special interest money in politics and add transparency.

“Until that happens, we will continue to level the playing field to advance our progressive values,” Kurtz wrote on Medium.

Support from the right

Jackson will also meet Wednesday with Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and ranking member Charles E. Grassley of Iowa. Ahead of that, Jackson’s nomination picked up support from prominent conservative federal judges in the first few days, including former federal appeals court Judge J. Michael Luttig.

Luttig, once considered a potential Supreme Court pick for a Republican president, in a statement first reported by CNN, wrote that Jackson “is as highly credentialed and experienced in the law as any nominee in history.”

Republicans should vote to confirm Jackson, particularly now that with Trump’s three high court appointees, “Republicans now have the comfortable majority on the Court that they have sought for four decades,” Luttig, a George H.W. Bush appointee, wrote.

“Republicans should vote to confirm Judge Jackson out of political calculation, even if they cannot bring themselves to confirm her out of political magnanimity, and then proudly take the deserved credit for their part in elevating the first black female jurist to the Supreme Court of the United States,” Luttig said.

And former Judge Thomas B. Griffith, a George W. Bush appointee to the federal appeals court in Washington, told the Judiciary Committee that he believes her work shows “she will adjudicate based on the facts and the law and not as a partisan.”

Griffith said he had “many chances” to review the decisions Jackson made as a district court judge in Washington, and that they occasionally differed on the best outcome of a case.

“However, I have always respected her careful approach, extraordinary judicial understanding, and collegial manner, three indispensable traits for success as a Justice on the Supreme Court,” Griffith wrote.

Jackson already has turned in her committee questionnaire, in which she detailed her interactions with the White House in President Joe Biden’s selection process for the upcoming vacancy. Justice Stephen G. Breyer formally announced on Jan. 27 that he would retire at the end of the current term this summer.

Jackson said White House Counsel Dana Remus contacted her three days after Breyer’s announcement, she met on Zoom with Vice President Kamala Harris on Feb. 11 and then met with Biden and Remus at the White House on Feb. 14.

“On February 24, 2022, the President offered me the nomination, and I accepted, and he announced his intent to nominate me on February 25, 2022,” Jackson wrote.

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