This week Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will have her Supreme Court nomination hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. President Joe Biden’s selection of the 51-year-old judge is historic: If confirmed, she’d become the first Black woman Justice ever to serve on the court and the first former public defender. She’d become only the second working mom of school-aged children.
Jackson has served on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals to the District of Columbia Circuit since 2021 and has nearly 9 years of experience as a federal judge, which is more than Justices Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett had combined.
Here’s the rundown:
Wait, there’s an opening on the Supreme Court?
Yes—well, there will be soon. Justice Stephen Breyer announced in January that he would step down at the end of the court’s current term assuming his successor was confirmed by then. On February 25, President Biden officially nominated Judge Jackson, who clerked for Justice Breyer, for the impending vacancy.
Breyer was appointed by a Democratic president, so his retirement will not change the court’s ideological balance; it will remain a 6-3 conservative supermajority for the foreseeable future. (Here is where we inform you that Republican-appointed Justice Clarence Thomas is currently hospitalized with an infection.)
What’s happening in the hearings this week?
Today, Jackson and the 22 Senate Judiciary Committee members will each have 10 minutes to make opening statements and outside witnesses will have five minutes to speak. Then there will be two days of questioning: Senators each get 30 minutes on Tuesday and 20 minutes on Wednesday for a second round. On Wednesday, the committee will have a closed-door session to discuss Jackson’s FBI background investigation, which is run on all nominees—though some more thoroughly than others! Thursday is the final day, and the committee will hear from the American Bar Association, which evaluates the qualifications of people nominated to the federal judiciary. Outside witnesses will get five minutes each for statements and Senators will get five minutes each for questions.
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What kinds of dumb things will Republicans ask Judge Jackson?
First, it’s worth mentioning that the Senate has already confirmed Jackson with bipartisan support three times and, for her current seat in 2021, three Republicans voted for her: Senators Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).
That said, the 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee include some of the worst elected assholes in this country, so they’re going to ask very dumb questions. In particular, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Tom Cotton have delusions of becoming president and will likely be very messy so they can get their little videos out for MAGA retweets.
A few spurious lines of attack have emerged in the three weeks since Biden nominated Jackson:
- that she represented terrorists. Jackson was assigned to represent Guantánamo Bay detainees when she was a federal public defender, a job created thanks to the Sixth Amendment right to a lawyer
- that she’s a radical pawn promoted by “dark money” groups. That’s pure projection about every Justice handpicked by Federalist Society
- that she goes too easy on sex offenders because she didn’t hand out the maximum sentence in the federal guidelines. Senator Hawley started this bullshit attack which is amusing since he has voted to confirm at least three other judges who handed out similar sentences
What exact nonsense will this week hold? We have to wait to find out!!!!
When will Senators actually vote on her nomination?
Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer reportedly wanted Democrats to follow a similar timeline that Republicans used for now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett. In that instance, the full Senate vote was 14 days after her hearings began, so we could be looking at a final vote on Judge Jackson as soon as Monday, April 4. The Senate has a two-week recess starting on April 11 and Democrats hope to have this wrapped by then. (Barrett was confirmed 30 days after she was nominated and Judge Jackson surely won’t move THAT fast.) If confirmed, Judge Jackson wouldn’t be seated until after the court’s current term ends, per Justice Breyer’s wishes.
Judge Jackson only needs a simple majority to be confirmed. The Senate is split 50-50, but Democrats control the chamber, thanks to Vice President Harris’ ability to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate. Yes, Senator Ben Ray Lujan (D-New Mexico) is back at work after having a stroke in January. Senate Judiciary chair Dick Durbin of Illinois estimated that half a dozen Republicans could vote to confirm her.
Where can I watch the KBJ hearings?
People can stream the hearings starting today at 11 am ET on the Senate website, C-SPAN, and cable networks like CBS will be carrying it live.