Republicans press Ketanji Brown Jackson on race and crime on Day 2 of Supreme Court hearings
“It is not something that I've studied, it doesn't come up in my work," said Judge Jackson when asked about critical race theory.
Race and crime were front and center during the second day of the historic Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Tuesday.
Some of the most contentious moments came from lines of questioning from Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, who pressed Judge Jackson about her sentencing of child pornography offenders and past public statements – attempting to tie the federal circuit judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to critical race theory.
Cruz, who attended Harvard Law School with Jackson in the 1990s, opened his 30-minute questioning by reading a popular quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that is often referenced by Republicans: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation that they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
He went on to ask Jackson if she agreed with that statement, to which she said, “I do.”
Senator Cruz went on to reference a speech Judge Jackson gave at the University of Michigan in which she referenced Nikole Hannah Jones, the Pultizer Prize-winning journalist and author of The 1619 Project, which highlights the impact of slavery in the United States.
Cruz mentioned the project’s assertion that “the colonists decided to declare independence because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery,” which he called a “highly contested historical claim.”
The Texas senator then pointedly asked Judge Jackson if she agreed with Jones “that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare independence is because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery?”
Judge Jackson replied, “It is not something that I’ve studied, it doesn’t come up in my work. I was mentioning it because it was, at least at that time, something that was talked about and well known to the students that I was speaking to at the law school.”
Cruz went on to tie Jones’ award-winning publication to critical race theory and asked Judge Jackson if she viewed American society through the lens of the academic discipline. “I’ve never studied critical race theory and I’ve never used it. It doesn’t come up in the work that I do as a judge,” said Jackson.
Senator Cruz then displayed a giant placard of a quote from Jackson in which she referenced critical race theory in a different speech at the University of Chicago regarding U.S. sentencing. Jackson clarified, “That slide does not show the entire laundry list of different academic disciplines that I said relating to sentencing policy, but none of that relates to what I do as a judge.”
Cruz also brought up books about race that are a part of the curriculum at the Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., of which Judge Jackson sits on its Board of Trustees. One of those books was Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi.
“One portion of the book says babies are taught to be racist or anti-racist. There is no neutrality. Another portion of the book they recommend to babies confess when being racist,” said Cruz. “Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that the babies are racist?”
“Senator, I do not believe that any child should be made to feel as though they’re racist or though they are not valued or though they are less than, that they’re victims, that they are oppressors. I don’t believe in any of that,” answered Judge Jackson.
Jackson also made clear that as a member of the school’s Board of Trustees, she does “not control the curriculum.”
Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee also focused on concerns of whether or not Jackson was “soft on crime.”
Senator Cruz pressed Judge Jackson about eight cases involving child pornography, in which she sentenced offenders to less prison time than requested by the prosecutor. This same issue was raised by Republican Senator Josh Hawley and others.
“The evidence in these cases are egregious. The evidence in these cases are among the worst that I have seen and yet as Congress directs, judges don’t just calculate the guidelines and stop. Judges have to take into account the personal circumstances of the defendant because that’s a requirement of Congress,” said Judge Jackson to Senator Cruz.
She later clarified to Senator Hawley, “if you were to look at the greater body of not only my more than 100 sentences but also the sentences of other judges in my district and nationwide you would see a very similar exercise of attempting to do what it is that judges do – attempting to take into account all of the relevant factors and do justice individually in each case.”
Another contentious moment during Tuesday’s hearing came earlier in the day when Sen. Graham griped about his preferred candidate for this Supreme Court vacancy, Judge J. Michelle Childs of South Carolina. Graham said that Childs was disparaged by groups tied to “dark money” and subsequently passed over for Jackson.
“Did you notice that people from the left were pretty much cheering you on?” asked Graham. “So many of these left-wing radical groups that would destroy the law as we know it declared war on Michelle Childs and supported you.”
“Senator, a lot of people were supporting various people for this nomination,” Judge Jackson replied.
Alencia Johnson, political strategist and founder of the social impact agency 1063 West Broad, told theGrio that Graham’s mentioning of Judge Childs and other Republicans who brought up the past confirmation hearings of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett is “irrelevant” and described their line of questioning and statements as “political theater.”
“I was really saddened to hear Senator Graham bring up Judge Childs and this conversation because as I look at it as a Black woman, you’re pitting two Black women against each other,” said Johnson. “Yes, he has some sour grapes, sure, because she’s from South Carolina, but a lot of people don’t get what they want. And so you move forward.”
Johnson, who served as a senior advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, said that as it relates to Republicans’ grievances regarding Justice Kavanaugh, “the Republican Party doesn’t want to bring up the fact that…the nominee was accused of sexual assault.”
She noted, “This is the second time the Republican Party has nominated someone and confirmed someone that was accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault” – also referring to Justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexual harassment in 1991.
“To have this conversation as if Judge Jackson has a spotty and disgraceful record in the way that Kavanaugh did is really a nonstarter, and it’s really unfortunate,” Johnson added.
Johnson also slammed Sen. Cruz’s attempts at tying Judge Jackson to critical race theory. “Senator Ted Cruz is auditioning for his reelection and his campaign viral moments, as well as trying to score political points with the Republican Party for being so hard on these culture wars and these scare tactics,” she said.
“We’re changing the makeup of who’s deciding laws in this country. We’re changing the makeup of who is giving an opinion on critical cases that impact our lives for hundreds of years.”
Ultimately, Johnson said she believes Judge Jackson handled the line of questioning well. “There’s a reason that she’s up there and not someone like me who would literally go off on Ted Cruz, but it was really frustrating to see,” she said.
“The Republicans have barely anything to attack her on. She has an airtight record…They can’t find anything. And so they’re using this as a political theater to score some campaign dollars or whatever it may be as they’re running for reelection in midterms and potentially in 2024.”
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