Berkeley law dean claims 'no plausible basis' to oppose Ketanji Jackson nomination, slams Republican 'smears'

Lawmakers have expressed concern over what they say is a record of Jackson treating sex offenders 'leniently'

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Berkeley law dean Erwin Chemerinsky is going after Republican lawmakers for what he claims are "unfair smears" against President Biden's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

In a Sunday op-ed for The Los Angeles Times, the liberal dean argued there was "no plausible basis" for opposing Jackson's nomination despite concerns from some lawmakers that she previously gave sex-offenders "lenient sentences," as well as expressed support for the controversial 1619 Project. 

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks after President Biden announced Jackson as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Cross Hall of the White House, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks after President Biden announced Jackson as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Cross Hall of the White House, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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"The fight over the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court is powerful evidence that our political system is broken like never before," Chemerinsky wrote. "There is no plausible basis for opposing Jackson, who has impeccable qualifications and about whom nothing controversial has been discovered."

"Yet, her confirmation hearings, which begin on Monday are likely to be highly contentious, and she is unlikely to get the votes of more than a Republican senator or two," he added. "Lacking any credible basis for opposing her, Republicans are turning to unfair smears."

Chemerinsky claimed there were no credentials better than Jackson's, citing her experience as a public defender, a federal judge and as a clerk to a number of other federal judges. 

"Lacking any grounds for opposition, Republicans are resorting to slime," he wrote, describing criticism Jackson had received for representing a detainee at Guantanamo Bay and praising her for being the first public defender to be potentially confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice.

He specifically pointed to criticism from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who expressed concern during an appearance on Fox News' "Hannity" last week that Jackson had treated sex offenders "leniently" while working as a federal judge. 

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) meets U.S. Supreme Court nominee and federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, in his office at the United States Capitol building in Washington, U.S., March 9, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein 

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) meets U.S. Supreme Court nominee and federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, in his office at the United States Capitol building in Washington, U.S., March 9, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein  (REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

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Chemerinsky claimed that in a majority of the sex offender cases cited by critics, Jackson imposed a sentence "the same as or greater than" the recommended sentence by the U.S. probation office.

He sought to refute other criticisms of Jackson that included accusations of her of having "a special empathy for criminals," and voting to modify the recommended sentences for those convicted of possessing child pornography before suggesting critics were targeting her because of her race and gender. 

"Have they no shame? Representing criminal defendants or Guantanamo detainees reflects a desire to uphold the Constitution, not ‘special empathy for criminals.’ One cannot help but wonder whether Jackson being a Black woman is fueling this 'soft on crime' attack," he wrote.

He went on to suggest that Republicans were using the criticism as "payback" for Democrats' overwhelming opposition to former President Trump's three Supreme Court nominees.

"But what is really going on is that Republicans believe that they can appeal to their political base by opposing any Democratic pick for the Supreme Court. And they are willing to resort to whatever it takes," Chemerinsky wrote. 

"Republicans can make a lot of noise and throw around dirt, but they don’t have the votes to block her," he added. "Nominees are rarely defeated when the president and the Senate are of the same political party. Still, the Republicans are sure to make this week’s hearings a spectacle, attacking a nominee who deserves full bipartisan support."

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones signs books for her supporters before taking the stage to discuss her new book, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, with the Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida at an LA Times book club event on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones signs books for her supporters before taking the stage to discuss her new book, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, with the Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida at an LA Times book club event on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images) (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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Aside from criticism over Jackson's past treatment of sex offenders, in a 2020 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day address at the University of Michigan, she praised The New York Times' controversial 1619 Project, which is based on American history beginning with the arrival of African slaves to Virginia in 1619 and views much of its founding through a racial lens.

In the speech, she called the project's left-wing author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, an "acclaimed investigative journalist," and highlighted the "provocative" assertion that "the America that was born in 1776 was not the perfect union that it purported to be."