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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
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Doug Jones was a conspicuous presence along Judge Jackson’s path to the Supreme Court

“She is incredibly bright and insightful and principled,” the former Democratic Senator from Alabama said of SCOTUS nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.

(CN) — For former Alabama Senator Doug Jones, the last month and a half have been intense and exhilarating, culminating in this week’s hourslong hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On Feb. 2, the White House announced Jones would be President Joe Biden’s advisor on the process to nominate a judge to replace the retiring Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Stephen Breyer.

In the weeks following, Jones helped guide Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson — Biden’s nominee — through the Senate. Jones walked by her side as she went to meet with almost four dozen senators on Capitol Hill. He sat to her right as she testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Behind the scenes, he helped prepare Jackson for any questions the senators might have. His goal, Jones said, is to help Jackson scoop up enough support in the Senate to cross the finish line.

“We felt very, very good coming back” from the hearings, Jones said in an interview Friday, adding that Jackson made her voice heard on her background and her judging.

“What she has done is to give these senators a methodology about how she goes about deciding each case fairly,” Jones said.

He then alluded to Chief Justice John Roberts’ saying that his job was to “call balls and strikes.”

“[Jackson is] essentially setting in place a strike zone that doesn’t move and keeping it there and judging” based on that strike zone, Jones said.  

Earlier on Friday, Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, announced he would support Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court, citing in part Jackson’s work as a public defender, “a pillar of our judicial system,” Manchin said.

Jones, who served in the Senate for three years from January 2018 to January 2021 as Alabama’s Democratic senator, said there will be more meetings with senators up until the votes on whether to nominate Jackson. Jones said there were a handful of meetings with senators on Thursday.

“We’re gonna be talking and following up after the meetings with any information that they may need,” Jones said. “Any clarifications that they want, we’re happy to talk to anybody to try to see what it is that might help them make their decision.”

In a different time, Jones said he believed the support for Jackson would have been nearly unanimous among the senators, given her qualifications and experience. But last summer, when the Senate confirmed Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the deliberative body voted 53-44 for her confirmation, with only three Republican senators backing Jackson in that vote.

Currently, 50 Senators are Republicans.

We’re “not giving up on Republican votes at all,” Jones said.

Jones said there is a view in the country and the Senate that the independence of the Supreme Court has eroded and has grown more politicized.

Senators, Jones said, can push back and demonstrate that a confirmation to the Supreme Court does not have to be partisan through wide support of a nominee.

“I don’t believe there will be a single person in that Senate that will say that she is not well qualified,” Jones said. “It is a difference in philosophy, so-called philosophy that they’re trying to find. Or quite frankly, they can couch it in whatever term they want to, but some of it will be political. If people really want to help move the court back into an [era] where it is not seen as a political body, I think the Senate could do could go a long way to help that. But that’s up to each individual senator.”

Jones represented Alabama in the U.S. Senate after pulling off a narrow upset in a special election against former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore.

Before that, Jones was the U.S. Attorney who helped prosecute two members of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 2000s for their involvement in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, an attack that killed four girls.

Jones was thinking about those four girls as he was standing in the room when Biden announced his nomination of Jackson to the Supreme Court on Feb. 25.

“You could not help but think about whether or not one of those four girls could have made it to this point … and a promise that was lost when they were killed,” Jones said.

Jones continued, saying Jackson represents much to many people.

“It’s not just the nomination of a of a Black woman to the Supreme Court. I think it’s her,” Jones said. “She is more of an inspiration as a person and as a jurist in her own right as the historical significance of her nomination.”

The former prosecutor said there was a short amount of time to cover a lot of review ahead of the hearings, from Jackson’s time on her high school debate team, to Harvard Law School, to the decisions she issued while sitting on the District Court for the District of Columbia.

Jackson, Jones said, was a witness to her entire life.

“With any witness, you have to prepare them for testimony. And when you prepare them for testimony, you talk about you go through the story, but you also prepare for the likelihood of cross examination. So you can surmise how we prepared for, in part, prepared for the hearings.”

However, “the groundwork had been laid,” Jones said, as this was Jackson’s third time through the confirmation process.

Some of the notable moments from the hearings was the criticism Senator Josh Hawley levied against Jackson for the sentences she handed down in child pornography possession cases, saying she was too lenient.

Jones said once Hawley raised the issue, they began to review the cases, though they didn’t look at every one.

It’s a criticism Jones called unfair, as Jackson’s sentences in those cases tracked with other judges who were appointed by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Jones pointed out even the conservative magazine National Review described Sen. Hawley’s criticism of Jackson’s sentences in child porn possession cases as “demagoguery.”

“I think it demonstrated there was some lack of understanding about the entire sentencing process in federal court. … I think she did a really good job explaining how she approaches sentencing and approach sentencing in those cases,” Jones said. “That’s about all you can do once you’re there.”

Heading into the nomination process, Jones said he learned of Jackson’s qualifications through the vetting process. But he also learned some things through the trips with her across Capitol Hill.

She has “one of the most remarkable backgrounds and stories that we’ve ever seen in a Supreme Court justice, but we also got to know her,” Jones said. “And she is engaging. She is incredibly bright and insightful and principled. And it has been just a joy to get to know her.”

Follow @jcksndnl
Categories / Courts, Government, National

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