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Parties close arguments over Supreme Court pick

Witness testimony wraps up Jackson's confirmation hearing

Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, and Steve Marshall, attorney general of Alabama, testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, and Steve Marshall, attorney general of Alabama, testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate Judiciary Committee put Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on the path to confirmation to the Supreme Court after closing her nomination hearings Thursday with character witnesses and outside experts.

Senators used the fourth and final hearing day to bolster their arguments about Jackson’s qualifications through questions to more than a dozen witnesses. Democrats have so far remained united on the nomination of the federal appeals court judge and, because they control the Senate, do not require Republican support to confirm her.

Many of the witnesses emphasized the historic nomination of the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, despite what Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, called “bad faith efforts” to undermine Jackson.

“We are going to confirm a Black woman not because she is Black, but because she is qualified,” Beatty said in her testimony to the committee.

Earlier this week, committee Republicans frequently confronted Jackson with issues that have played prominently in broader party politics, such as critical race theory. They also questioned whether the judge would be lenient on criminal defendants.

But D. Jean Veta,​​ a member of the American Bar Association’s evaluation committee, said the organization examined whether Jackson showed a bias toward criminal defendants during its assessment. The ABA rated Jackson as “well qualified,” said Veta,​​ an attorney at Covington & Burling LLP.

“Notably, no judge, defense counsel or prosecutor expressed any concern in this regard and they uniformly rejected any accusations in this regard,” she said.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, a panel witness for Republicans, argued Jackson would hurt various efforts nationwide to combat a rise in violent crime. He also argued Jackson ascribed to a “defund the police” philosophy that would undermine law enforcement, referencing her sentencing decisions.

“The Senate now has the opportunity to make sure the ideology the administration seemingly has increasingly embraced is never permitted to make its way onto the Supreme Court,” Marshall said.

One of the committee Republicans, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, continued her push for the release of confidential pre-sentencing reports used in child pornography cases Jackson oversaw as a trial judge. Blackburn and other Republicans have argued they need the reports to assess Jackson’s decisions in those cases.

“No one wants to risk harm to children,” Blackburn said.

Chairman Richard J. Durbin said the committee has never requested those documents for other nominees, nor have they been disclosed to the White House. He noted such documents were among confidential forms about sexual abuse victims.

“I can’t imagine for a moment a parent … who lives in fear every day of what’s going to be made public, what’s going to show up on the internet, would view this as just a routine request for information.” Durbin said. “It is so much more than that.”

He and other Democratic panel members have pushed back on Republican attacks as inaccurate and unfair. During both panels of questions, Democrats leaned on endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police and testimony from witness Frederick Thomas, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Professionals.

Durbin said the panel will begin a markup of Jackson’s nomination on Monday. Committee rules allow for members to “hold over” a nomination for the next meeting. That would allow for a final committee vote for Jackson’s nomination on April 4, and a Senate floor vote later that week.

Republicans voted to change the threshold for advancing Supreme Court nominations, to a simple majority, to confirm Neil M. Gorsuch in 2017. That leaves them few options for delaying Jackson’s nomination absent a Democratic defection.

One committee member, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he planned to vote “no” on the nomination. He said he had not heard of any effort to block her nomination by denying a quorum in the Senate.

“The only talk of that I have heard is from reporters,” he said.

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