(WASHINGTON) — For Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, the easiest part of a Senate confirmation hearing is over. Next come the questions — 19 hours of them over two days.
Jackson, 51, was sworn in Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, delivering an opening statement and reintroducing herself to the nation.
“I hope that you will see how much I love our country, and the Constitution and the rights that make us free,” she told the senators who will vote on her historic nomination.
On Tuesday, Jackson will lean on her three prior experiences being questioned by the Judiciary Committee — more than any other nominee in 30 years — as its 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats take turns probing her judicial philosophy, her record as a public defender and her legal opinions spanning nearly nine years on the bench.
“This is a new game for the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of three Republicans who voted to confirm Jackson to the D.C. Circuit, the nation’s second-highest court, just last year.
Jackson has spent the past few weeks practicing for the spotlight during mock sessions conducted with White House staff, sources familiar with the preparations told ABC News. She also met individually with each of the committee’s members and 23 other senators from both parties.
Each senator will get a 30-minute solo round of questioning on Tuesday, totaling more than 11 hours if each uses all of his or her allotted time. The grilling is unlike any other for federal judges or political nominees in large part because of the lifetime tenure on the line.
Probing Jackson’s record on crime
While Democrats have emphasized the historic nature of Jackson’s nomination and her compelling personal story, Republicans have vowed “thorough and civil” scrutiny of her record in hundreds of cases, which some have implied shows she is “soft on crime.”
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri has leveled the most pointed critique of Jackson’s record so far, accusing her of a “long record” of letting child porn offenders “off the hook” in sentencing.
During his statement Monday, Hawley raised seven child porn offender cases in which Jackson issued sentences below federal guidelines while on the District Court. (Roughly 60% of sentences in such cases are lower than what the guidelines call for, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and in most of the cases Hawley cited, federal prosecutors requested sentences shorter than what the guidelines suggest.)
“I’m not interested in trying to play gotcha,” Hawley told Jackson. “I am interested in her answers, because I found in our time together that she was enormously thoughtful, enormously accomplished and I suspect has a coherent view, an explanation, a way of thinking about this that I want to hear.”
The White House and several independent fact-checkers have called the claims misleading and unfair. The National Review, a conservative publication, called the allegations “meritless to the point of demagoguery” and a “smear.”
Spotlight on Jackson’s defense of Gitmo detainee
Republicans made clear they will also take aim at Jackson’s defense of an accused terrorist held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay — a case she was assigned to as a federal public defender.
“You used your time and talent not to serve our nation’s veterans or other vulnerable groups, but to provide free legal services to help terrorists get out of Gitmo and go back to the fight,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
Jackson has previously explained her service as an example of belief in constitutional values — the right of each person to a defense in the American judicial system — and noted her personal connection to the sacrifices of U.S. service members after 9/11. Her brother is a veteran.
Defining a judicial philosophy
Several Republicans said they planned to press Jackson to characterize her judicial philosophy.
During her confirmation hearing last year, Jackson said outright that she does “not have a judicial philosophy per se, other than to apply the same method of thorough analysis to every case, regardless of the parties.”
Conservative jurists tend to take a narrower view of constitutional and legal interpretation, sticking only to the text and its original meaning at the time it was written. Liberal jurists tend to take a more expansive view, taking into account the intent of legislators and evolving context around aspects of law.
“In any supreme court nomination, the most important thing that I look for is the nominee’s view of the law,” said the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican member, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. “I’ll be looking to see whether judge Jackson is committed to the Constitution as it was originally understood.”
Race, affirmative action and liberal priorities
While Republicans have sought to downplay questions related to race, Jackson’s ties to Harvard University and a major upcoming high court case involving the school’s use of race in admissions could open the door to those types of inquiries. She would be on the bench to hear the case if confirmed.
Several GOP senators also signaled Monday they intend to press Jackson to answer for progressive legal advocacy groups backing both her nomination and an expansion of the Supreme Court’s bench, or “court packing,” which the current justices oppose.
“We must protect the court,” declared Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, hinting he would look for Jackson to disavow the groups’ activities.
Trump administration rulings
Former President Donald Trump was only mentioned by name once in passing during Monday’s hearing, but several decisions Jackson issued against the Trump administration will likely be scrutinized Tuesday.
“I’m eager to understand why in some instances, you found that you could not decide a particular issue while in other instances you enjoined a Republican administration from implementing its policies,” said Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, alluding to some of those decisions.
In one case cited by conservatives, Jackson blocked a Trump administration plan to fast-track deportations because the policy change likely violated the Administrative Procedures Act and was “arbitrary and capricious.” The D.C. Circuit later overturned the decision.
Jackson’s ruling that former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn had to comply with a congressional subpoena over the administration’s objections will also draw attention.
“Presidents are not kings,” Jackson wrote. “Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the People of the United States, and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
The two days of questioning ahead could prove critical to the White House goal of securing at least some Republican support for Jackson’s confirmation. Three GOP senators voted in favor of her nomination to the D.C. Circuit. But Democrats also have the votes on their own for Jackson’s confirmation, which party leaders have said they plan to complete before Easter.
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