WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) – Senate Democrats on Wednesday defended Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s nominee to become the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, from Republican attacks painting her as a liberal activist as her confirmation hearing entered a third day.
Jackson was facing more questioning by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee after a marathon session on Tuesday during which Republicans pursued a series of hostile questions. Jackson rejected Republican accusations that she was improperly lenient as a judge in sentencing child pornography offenders and criticism of her legal representation earlier in her career of some detainees at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Republican senators also have tried to link Jackson to activist groups on the left and to “critical race theory,” which argues American history and institutions are infused with racial bias.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who chairs the committee, on Wednesday praised Jackson for her poise under pressure and defended her record. He said some Republicans had used the hearing as “an opportunity to showcase talking points for the November election” when control of Congress is up for grabs, including the argument that Democrats are soft on crime.
“Well, you have made a mess of their stereotype,” Durbin said, pointing to the fact that she has been endorsed by law enforcement groups, including the National Fraternal Order of Police. Durbin said that her approach to child pornography sentencing was similar to the vast majority of federal judges.
Senator Chuck Grassley, the committee’s top Republican, complained about documents that senators have sought relating to Jackson’s sentencing record and her time on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a federal agency that recommends sentencing guidelines.
“How is the United States Senate supposed to review a record that we don’t have?” Grassley asked.
The first senator to question Jackson on Wednesday was Democrat Jon Ossoff, who said the Senate confirmation process at times can be intrusive, cruel and unfair. Jackson described her brother’s service as a police officer and in the U.S. military.
So far, there is no sign that the Republican attacks are likely to derail Jackson’s confirmation, with Democrats narrowly controlling the Senate. With a simple majority needed for confirmation and the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties, she would get the job if Democrats remain united regardless of how the Republicans vote.
Jackson has served since last year as a federal appellate judge after eight years as a federal district court judge. She pledged to be an independent jurist who would not inject her own views into rulings.
Her confirmation would not change the court’s ideological balance – it has a 6-3 conservative majority – but would let Biden freshen its liberal bloc with a 51-year-old jurist young enough to serve for decades.
The Democratic president nominated Jackson last month to the lifetime post to succeed retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer.
All 22 members of the committee will have the chance for asking Jackson further questions on Wednesday, with outside experts testifying on Thursday’s final day.
In responding to Republican claims that she has been soft on child pornography defendants, Jackson said on Tuesday: “As a mother and a judge who has had to deal with these cases, I was thinking that nothing could be further from the truth.” In each such case, she said, “I did my duty to hold the defendants accountable.”
Sentencing experts in a March 20 letter to the committee deemed Jackson’s sentencing in such cases “squarely within the mainstream of federal district court judges nationally.”
Jackson also said her past legal representation of Guantanamo detainees was consistent with American values of fairness.
If confirmed, Jackson would be the 116th justice to serve on the high court, the sixth woman and the third Black person. With Jackson on the bench, the court for the first time would have four women and two Black justices.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Moira Warburton and Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)