U.S. Senate panel bickers over Supreme Court nomination but sets vote next week

By: - March 28, 2022 4:27 pm

Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. (Screen shot from Senate video)

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee reopened partisan disagreements Monday as members scheduled a vote for April 4 on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Republicans’ criticisms of Jackson’s record and responses were either untrue or disingenuous. Meanwhile, ranking Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa again raised process concerns.

Jackson declined to label her judicial philosophy, despite repeated attempts by Republicans over two days of questioning last week to have her describe it. But she has authored hundreds of opinions that provide an in-depth view of her philosophy, Durbin said.

While most Republicans were respectful during the hearing, some engaged in “jackassery,” Durbin said, quoting Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse.

Sasse was making a general point about senators’ behavior in front of cameras, but it followed a particularly charged interrogation of Jackson by Republican Ted Cruz of Texas.

Durbin took particular umbrage at the focus by a few Republicans, including Cruz and Missouri’s Josh Hawley, on Jackson’s sentencing of child pornography convicts. Hawley and Cruz said Jackson was too lenient in those cases.

Durbin called it a “baseless charge.” Jackson’s sentencing was in line with 70 to 80% of federal judges, he said.

“Some members of this committee used the entirety of the question time — all 50 minutes — to focus exclusively on child pornography cases,” Durbin said. “This may play well with the QAnon crowd and the fringe conspiracy theorists who helped drive the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. But the American public sees it for what it is.”

Durbin also criticized Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s statement last week that he could not vote for Jackson because she did not take a position against adding seats to the Supreme Court.

Amy Coney Barrett, a Supreme Court justice whom McConnell and 52 other Republican senators voted to confirm following her nomination by President Donald Trump, also declined to take a position on the issue, Durbin said.

Grassley warned Democrats that their talking point that the Senate had confirmed Jackson to three other positions could have unintended consequences.

Democrats have pointed out that Jackson, 51, who grew up in Miami, has won bipartisan Senate approval to sit on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, as a federal district judge and a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judge. Using those approvals as the standard for Supreme Court confirmation would only lead to more scrutiny for nominees to lower positions, Grassley said.

“Using votes for positions like the U.S. Sentencing Commission is going to make it much harder to confirm anyone to those positions,” he said.

Grassley also complained that the White House withheld records related to Jackson’s record as a judge and member of the sentencing commission. All of her non-public documents from the U.S. Sentencing Commission were withheld, he said.

Probation sentencing reports from 14 criminal cases were also not provided to the committee, Grassley said.

On judicial philosophy, Grassley said it was a legitimate question for judicial nominees. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer had raised it 20 years ago to oppose a George W. Bush nominee, Grassley said.

Durbin and Grassley agreed to hold over a committee vote until April 4, a common practice for the panel. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he wants a final floor vote by April 8, which means much of next week in the Senate may be consumed by the nomination.

Abortion debate resumes

Three Democratic senators, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, spoke to rebut testimony a Republican witness offered last week about anti-abortion protests near abortion clinics. All three Democrats are former prosecutors.

Protesters could be hostile and even violent, Whitehouse said. During Whitehouse’s time as U.S. attorney in Rhode Island, a gunman killed two and wounded five in a 1996 attack on abortion clinics in neighboring Massachusetts, he said.

Klobuchar added that a bulletproof vest was sent to her when she was the Hennepin County attorney, a comment on the potential danger she was in during appearances at abortion clinics.

While in private practice in 2001, Jackson wrote a brief for a Massachusetts case that said in part that women seeking abortions were subject to “hostile” crowds, and were entitled to a safe path to abortion clinics.

Eleanor McCullen, an anti-abortion advocate with a gentle demeanor called by the committee’s Republicans to testify on the last day of Jackson’s confirmation hearings, countered that description. McCullen painted her advocacy outside abortion clinics as an act of compassion.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.

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