Jackson unscathed as Republicans press her on child porn, Gitmo

Democrats gushed over Jackson, Republicans chose not to go scorched-earth

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It was only a few minutes into the confirmation hearing when Ketanji Brown Jackson delivered an impassioned condemnation of child porn defendants.

The Supreme Court nominee spoke in response  to a sympathetic question from the committee’s Democratic chairman, Dick Durbin, to blunt the impact of the coming Republican criticism. During Monday’s proceedings, when the senators got to bloviate and Jackson could not speak except for her opening statement, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley slammed her on the issue.

But yesterday, Jackson spoke passionately about the "horrible" and destructive impact of child pornography and said she had issued lengthy sentences to some of those convicted, within federal guidelines, plus additional sanctions on their use of computers. She said it was her job as a judge in an era of ubiquitous pornography to make distinctions in individual cases. But Jackson spoke empathetically about a young woman who was so traumatized by nude pictures of her online that she was "paralyzed" and would not leave her house. 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson arrives for her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 22, 2022. 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson arrives for her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 22, 2022.  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

As Durbin noted, fact checks from ABC, CNN and the Washington Post found Hawley’s criticism to be unfair. A prominent conservative, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, wrote in National Review that the attack was a smear.

Hawley pressed the issue hours later, describing the sexual abuse of young children in videos uploaded by an 18-year-old defendant. Prosecutors recommended a two-year sentence, but Jackson gave him three months. Jackson, while calling the conduct "heinous" and "egregious," said she also focused on the defendant’s age and "redirecting" his "attention." It was her weakest answer by far and difficult, in this case, to accept her reasoning.

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill  (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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The overall takeaway: With few fireworks and Jackson’s deliberate dullness, Republicans chose not to go scorched-earth, and she largely emerged unscathed. Everyone knows the judge is going to be confirmed, at least with 50 Democratic votes, and that has drained the drama from the hearings.

In fact, the hottest moment during what often resembled a law-school seminar was an exchange between Lindsey Graham and Durbin over the release of Guantanamo prison detainees. Graham walked out in a huff.

In a larger sense, the Judiciary Committee sessions are being overshadowed by Ukraine. It was only a half-hour in that MSNBC broke away for the first of several times–ranking Republican Chuck Grassley was questioning Jackson–for war updates. Fox and CNN ended their live coverage in the late afternoon.

Democrats gushed over Jackson, singing the praises of diversity, and that underscored her potential status as the Court’s first Black woman. Republicans initially lauded Jackson personally before hammering her, such as Ted Cruz going off on critical race theory, despite the judge saying she didn’t consider it on the bench. Cruz and Mike Lee also went over the child-porn sentences. 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, March 22, 2022, in Washington. 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, March 22, 2022, in Washington.  ((AP Photo/Evan Vucci))

Graham, starting with a question about Jackson’s faith (non-denominational Protestant), spent most of his time litigating arguments over past Republican nominees he believes were treated unfairly, and trying to draw Jackson into political discussions. She deflected the questions.  

Asked about being assigned to defend Gitmo detainees, Jackson said that as awful as the 9/11 attacks were, these accused terrorists, "under our constitutional scheme, were entitled to representation, were entitled to be treated fairly… That’s what makes us exemplary."

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In a similar vein, Republican John Cornyn kept asking why the high court should have been able to overrule the states on same-sex marriage seven years ago as he pressed Jackson on "unenumerated rights." 

Dianne Feinstein, pushed aside by her party as the panel’s top Democrat because of her age, asked whether the two major Supreme Court rulings on abortion rights were "settled law." Jackson said they were, framing her response as agreement with two Trump appointees to the Court. 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, March 22, 2022, in Washington. 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, March 22, 2022, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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It may not matter much in this age of hyperpolarized politics–as typified by the Kavanaugh calamity–but Jackson came off as thoughtful, seasoned and personable. She turned her past work as a public defender into an asset, saying it helped her to understand people charged with crimes. She also deftly sidestepped policy questions, as all modern nominees do, such as whether the Court should be expanded or allow cameras in the courtroom.

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What she needed to do was not make a major blunder or lose her temper, and on that score, Jackson easily cleared the bar.