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Ketanji Brown Jackson takes historic first steps toward Supreme Court

Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings are scheduled for week of March 21

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s nominee to the Supreme Court, is seen inside the Mike Mansfield Room at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s nominee to the Supreme Court, is seen inside the Mike Mansfield Room at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson visited with key senators Wednesday, the first of what could be dozens of short face-to-face, get-to-know-you meetings ahead of her confirmation hearing in three weeks.

Senate Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin announced that the hearings will take place the week of March 21, with a traditional schedule of one day for introductions and senator statements, two days for senator questions and one day for outside witnesses.

“As I have said from the time that Justice [Stephen G.] Breyer announced his retirement, the Committee will undertake a fair and timely process to consider Judge Jackson’s nomination,” Durbin, D-Ill., wrote in a letter to the committee members.

Durbin was also one of the first four senators with whom Jackson met for about 30 minutes each on her first day in the Capitol on Wednesday as part of the confirmation process. After the meeting, Durbin said there were a handful of Republicans who might vote for her.

He also said that the confirmation process for her appeals court spot last year, during which the committee looked at her record and asked her questions on the record, meant her hearing for the high court could move forward quickly.

“There’s little mystery as to how she views a case and analyzes it,” Durbin told reporters, since she has written nearly 600 opinions. Ultimately, three Republican senators voted to confirm her to her seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit: Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Jackson also met with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, who told reporters that a certain date for the hearing is “not the important thing right now.”

“The important thing is whatever it takes to do the proper vetting, and I can’t put days on that, but there ought to be a chance for any Republican that wants to have a face-to-face meeting to have a face-to-face meeting,” Grassley said. “Now, I don’t know what time that takes, because I don’t know how many people want to do that.”

Grassley said the other 10 Republicans on the committee likely will want face-to-face meetings, but he was going to ask on Wednesday about the rest of the 50-senator GOP conference and what their preferences are.

At the same time, Grassley hinted that the meetings with Supreme Court nominees aren’t too substantive for him.

“Sometimes I ask a bunch of constitutional questions, but I’ve kind of given up on that recently,” Grassley said. “I’m going to wait and ask some questions that I want on the record, and I just want to get acquainted with her.”

Jackson, 51, has been a federal appeals court judge in Washington since last year. The Senate voted 53-44 to confirm her to that spot. Before that, she was a federal district judge since 2013, and her background includes serving as a federal public defender and on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

If confirmed, Jackson would be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.

After his meeting Wednesday, Schumer told reporters he is hopeful that when Republican senators meet Jackson, “they will just be wowed, as I was. She’s an amazing person.”

Schumer said he asked Jackson about her background, even as a child, and that they both agreed that family is “very, very important.”

“We talked a bit about family and how important family is to people, and how when family becomes less important then, you know, it makes people less happy and less secure,” Schumer said. “We talked about that one of the most important things of any judge is to understand both sides and to try and see where both sides come from, even if you might not agree with what they were talking about.”

The New York Democrat said it was clear that Jackson has “real empathy.”

“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,” Schumer said. “And you can see that just on meeting her, that that’s who she is, and she just automatically synthesizes some of that, and that’s a great thing.”

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