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American Bar Association heralds Jackson nomination to high court

The statement that lauds Ketanji Brown Jackson as well qualified to sit as a Supreme Court justice caps off what has been a week of hearings.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Finding no evidence in the judge's record to support accusations by Republicans that she is soft on crime, representatives of the American Bar Association commended Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's lofty qualifications as her Supreme Court confirmation hearing drew to a close Thursday.

"Well qualified" is the highest possible ranking given by the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, the body that evaluates the credential of nominees to the federal bench. Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the last day of Jackson's nomination hearings, members of the attorney panel told lawmakers why that rating has been given to Jackson, who sits poised to become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court and first justice with experience as a federal public defender.

The legal organization reached out more than 2,000 members of the legal community and spoke with 250 attorneys and judges with connections to Jackson before coming to its gold-star rating of her nomination.

"What was remarkable is how consistent they were in their comments about how everyone gets a fair shake (before her)," said Jean Veta, a member of the bar group who evaluated Jackson's nomination.

Veta said the ABA's investigation found Jackson, currently a federal appellate judge, to be competent, with judicial integrity and the temperament needed to serve on the nation's highest court.

"My conclusions are she has the highest degrees of professional competence and has the highest respect from the bench and the bar," Veta said.

The ABA evaluators rejected accusations lobbed at Jackson over the course of the week by Republicans who alleged she was lenient when handing down sentences zduring her time as a federal trial judge and harbored a bias in favor of criminal defendants.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri was the first to accuse Jackson of handing down lenient sentences in defiance of federal sentencing guidelines in child, though Jackson's record was in line with sentencing decisions made by other federal judges in similar cases.

Ann Claire Williams, chair of the ABA panel that evaluated Jackson's background and a former federal judge for the Northern District of Illinois, said they evaluated Jackson's history with child pornography cases and interviewed prosecutors who had handled such cases before her. Williams said no concerns about her sentencing decisions were raised.

"It never came up in any of the interview we conducted," Williams said.

To the extent that a prosecutor or a defense counsel felt that way, it would have come out in the process,” said Joseph Drayton, another member of the ABA panel.

Veta said no one alleged Jackson was soft on crime during the ABA's confidential interview process with members of the law community and evaluation of her judicial record.

"Notably, no judge, defense counsel, or prosecutor expressed any concern in this regard," Veta said.

She also quoted “one high-ranking attorney in the U.S. attorney’s office [who] responded, ‘I vehemently disagree,’” when asked about the allegations.

As the bar association evaluators testified, several Republicans who had criticized Jackson's sentencing background and her representation of Guantanamo Bay detainees during her time as a court-appointed public defender were noticeably absent from the committee room.

Senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, in addition to Hawley, all were no-shows for the organization's testimony.

Graham, who had previously voted to confirm Jackson to three separate federal posts, became heated during Wednesday's hearing, interrupting the nominee repeatedly as she tried to explain the factors that went into her sentencing decisions in child pornography cases.

Republicans on the committee have called for access to presentence reports from the child-pornography cases Jackson handled, something Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and other Democrats on the panel have strongly opposed.

The reports are confidential documents drafted by probation officers that include details on everything from the defendant's mental health history to details of the victim's background. The documents are used by judges after a conviction to make decisions about sentencing and are typically sealed from public record.

Senator Durbin said he had consulted prosecutors and victim rights organizations who raised concerns about unsealing the reports for the committee. He warned unsealing the documents would retraumatize child victims for the sake of political posturing and would not be relevant to Jackson's nomination.

"On my watch, I will not be party to it," Durbin said Thursday.

Senator Cory Booker said giving senators access to the documents could set a dangerous precedent of divulging private records and traumatic details of crimes every time a senator raised political concerns about a judicial nominee.

"We have never asked for this kind of confidential information from a third branch of government. It's never been done," the New Jersey Democrat said.

Jackson's nomination is now in the hands of the committee, which will meet Monday, March 28, to consider whether to recommend her nomination favorably to the Senate. Because of internal rules, the formal committee vote on Jackson may happen as late as Monday, April 4.

After days of Republicans levying accusations of bias against Jackson, whether any GOP members of the committee will support moving forward with her nomination is unclear. The panel is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, but even if no GOP senators on the committee back Jackson, her nomination will likely move out of committee without complication.

While tie votes in committee for lower court nominees typically require a special motion or discharge vote on the Senate floor on top of a vote on confirmation, that has historically not been the case for Supreme Court nominees. Even when the Senate Judiciary Committee has opposed or been tied over whether to recommend a high court nominee to the Senate, the nomination has moved forward to a vote on confirmation in the Senate.

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