Takeaways From the Ketanji Brown Jackson Confirmation Hearing

This article was updated on March 24, 2022. 

In anticipation of the potential historic appointment of the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, the nation has its eye on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice this week. 

As the three days of public questioning came to an end, we recapped some of the main takeaways from the hearing. 

Jackson’s Judicial Approach

On her first day of questioning, Brown Jackson was asked about the approach she takes to being a judge. She responded with a three-step process she practices, which includes clearing her mind of preconceived notions about a case, reviewing written briefs, the factual record and hearings needed to make a decision in a case and “embarking on an interpretation of the law that hews to ‘the constraints’ on her role as a judge.” 

She added that she tries “to figure out what the words mean as they were intended by the people who wrote them.”

Republicans had further questions about her judicial philosophy and whether she takes more of an originalist approach or a “Living Constitution” approach to the law. Jackson did not align herself with one or the other and said constitutional interpretation didn’t come up much in lower-court cases. 

On the third day of questioning, Jackson was once again asked about her philosophy for balancing constitutional provisions in a world that’s changed and continues to change. She was also asked how First Amendment rights for a free press work in a world with smartphones.  

“It’s a process of understanding what the core foundational principles are in the Constitution, as captured by the text, as originally intended, and then applying those principles to modern day,” she said. 

Addressing Claims on Child Porn Case Rulings

After much talk of Jackson being soft in rulings against child porn offenders, Jackson said this could be “nothing further from the truth.”

“These are some of the most difficult cases that a judge has to deal,” Jackson said when Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin gave her a chance to respond to these claims.

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley brought up nine cases in which the sentences imposed by Jackson were lighter than the federal guideline recommendation. Giving a sentence lighter than this guideline is not unusual for judges. 

In five of these nine cases, prosecutors were looking for shorter sentences, Douglas A. Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, has said. He added that her sentencing record in these types of cases is “pretty mainstream.”

Culture War Issues

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz asked Jackson about her stance on some of the issues coming up in culture wars ahead of midterms. She was asked about Critical Race Theory because she is on the board of Georgetown Day School, to which she said the subject doesn’t come up in her work and that the board “does not control the curriculum.”

“It’s never something I’ve studied or relied on, and wouldn’t be something I would rely on if I was in the Supreme Court,” she said. 

He also asked about her views on the book “Antiracist Baby” and whether she thought “babies are racist.”

She said she did not “believe any child should be made to feel that they’re racist or that they are not valued or that they are less than, that they’re victims or that they are oppressors.” 

The Importance of Public Service

Jackson has spoken of the importance of public service and how her family influenced her to get into this line of work. Her parents were public school teachers and her brother was a member of the military and a police officer. 

When asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., about her experience representing Guantanamo Bay detainees to be rewarding, she said she did, mentioning earlier remarks about her interest in public service. 

“Public service is very important to me. It is an important family value,” she said. 

Combative Questioning

Day Three of questioning started out more calm than Tuesday but turned to an aggressive tone when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., started his questioning. 

He grilled Jackson about how the Democrats treated a lower court nominee 20 years ago and about Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Graham also asked her more questioning about sentencing in child pornography cases, about illegal immigration and past judicial battles, interrupting her many times. 

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told Graham Jackson had “nothing to do with the Kavanaugh hearings,” to which Graham responded: “No, but I’m asking her about how she may feel about what y’all did.”

Durbin then told him his time had expired.