Sen. Ted Cruz questions US Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on critical race theory during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation in Washington, DC, on March 22. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Many Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are wasting no time embracing the kind of bad-faith scrutiny often reserved for women and Black nominees — beneficiaries of affirmative action, in one GOP senator’s parlance.
Some Republicans, lacking a coherent strategy, are pressing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for her views on The 1619 Project and the children’s book “Antiracist Baby” (because “critical race theory”), though neither has anything to do with the job she’s being considered for.
Others are trying with great effort to cast the nominee as weak on crime by distorting her past work defending Guantanamo Bay detainees and her sentencing in child pornography cases.
This wafer-thin opposition is revealing.
To use an observation from Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, the attacks on Tuesday were nothing more than “straw men, worn talking points and imagined grievances” that made clear that Republicans didn’t have any real criticisms of Jackson, whom the American Bar Association rated “well qualified” to serve on the court. All GOP senators had were tired complaints designed to animate their base.
The 1619 Project and critical race theory
Some Republicans on Tuesday seemed determined to deflect from Jackson’s record.
Take Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance. He spent several minutes of his questioning time not talking about Jackson but instead impugning Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times Magazine writer and the creator of The 1619 Project, which has become a lightning rod for the anger of the political right. Then, he leaped to CRT and rifled through children’s books that he said espouse the law school framework.
“Do you agree with this book (“Antiracist Baby”) that is being taught to kids that babies are racist?” Cruz asked, without any detectable irony.
Continuing after a sigh and a pause, Jackson refused to spar over racist babies and insisted on discussing legal issues.
“Senator, I have not reviewed any of those books, any of those ideas,” she said. “They don’t come up in my work as a judge, which I’m respectfully here to address.”
Later, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn revisited CRT, saying that Jackson ought to give parents the right to prohibit the concept from being taught in public school classrooms.
“It is important to them to have a Supreme Court that is going to protect parental rights to teach these children as parents see fit to have their children taught,” Blackburn said.
In important ways, avoiding conversations about anything relevant to Jackson seemed to be the point on Tuesday.
“In lieu of taking Jackson’s sterling record seriously, opponents have opted for deflection,” Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick recently wrote. “They don’t like court expansion. They don’t like the Sentencing Commission. They don’t like lawyers who defended detainees at Guantanamo Bay. But these aren’t actually complaints about Jackson or her qualifications. They’re rehashed boilerplate complaints about all Democrats.”
For weeks, Republicans have seemed uninterested in engaging with Jackson’s record. Presumably, that’s because they know that their attacks hold no merit and that there’s little they can do to thwart her from being confirmed. So, they’re using the hearings to prepare for something much less settled: the midterm election cycle.
“Soft on crime”
When they weren’t preoccupied with Democrats’ treatment of Brett Kavanaugh – who four years ago was accused of sexual assault before he was confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the country’s highest court —Republicans on Tuesday and Wednesday were obsessed with trying to portray Jackson as “soft on crime.”
For instance, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Texas Sen. John Cornyn expressed concerns over the nominee’s advocacy for Guantanamo Bay detainees while she served as a federal public defender and worked at a private law firm. Graham went so far as to claim that Jackson’s advocacy jeopardized national security.
“I’m suggesting the system has failed miserably and advocates to change the system like she was advocating would destroy our ability to protect our country,” Graham said, before theatrically leaving the room.
Yet what such criticism downplayed was the fact that Jackson was merely following the Constitution that Republicans enjoy showering with pious praise.
“She was meeting a minimal constitutional requirement: providing defense to those who are in the criminal justice system and who are unable to afford defense,” Melissa Murray, a professor at New York University School of Law, told CNN. “To me, that suggests fidelity to the rule of law, not necessarily soft on crime.”
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