WASHINGTON (CN) — Lawmakers used a marathon session of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to dig into the approach that Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson takes as a judge, as well as how she represented clients in the past as a public defender and private attorney.
Jackson, a sitting judge on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, asserted she would achieve "neutrality" as a Supreme Court justice. Responding directly and for the first time to criticisms of her record, Jackson rejected Republican assertions that she is a judicial activist — the term used for judges who rule based on desired case outcomes.
Having served as both a trial and appellate judge, spending years on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before she won confirmation to the appellate post last June, Jackson asserted "there is not a label" for her approach to cases.
"I am acutely aware that, as a judge in our system, I have limited power, and I am trying in every case to stay in my lane,” Jackson said.
As President Joe Biden's pick to fill Justice Stephen Breyer's spot on the nation's highest court, Jackson would be the first Black woman and first former public defender to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. Her confirmation hearing began Monday and will continue throughout the week.
Like all such hearings, Jackson's on Tuesday featured a mix of direct questions from senators aimed at learning more about her approach to judging, and political posturing by lawmakers eager for a soundbite.
Repeatedly, the 51-year-old talked about her commitments to the U.S. Constitution and to existing Supreme Court precedent while refusing to take the bait from senators searching for details on her political beliefs and legal perspective.
"I do not believe that there is a living constitution in the sense that it's changing and it's infused with my own policy perspective or the policy perspective of the day. Instead, the Supreme Court has made clear that when you were interpreting the constitution, you're looking at the text at the time of the founding, and what the meaning was as a constraint on my own authority," Jackson said at the start of the hearing.
When asked about whether she supports expanding the size of the Supreme Court or allowing TVs in the courtroom, Jackson declined to comment. She then went on to evade probes from Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina about her stance on Breyer's judicial philosophy and how much her Christian faith means to her.
Democrats have applauded Jackson's stellar resumé, from her Harvard University and Law School degrees to her three clerkships for federal judges, including Breyer, and the years she spent as a federal public defender and in private practice.
While her first day before the panel consisted of prewritten statements read aloud by each lawmaker, Tuesday's hourslong question-and-answer session gave Jackson the chance to directly address lawmakers' comments, including warped accusations raised in recent days by Senator Josh Hawley that she was overly lenient as a district court judge when handing down sentences in child-pornography cases.
"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. These are some of the most difficult cases that a judge has to deal with because we're talking about pictures of sex abuse of children," Jackson said of her thoughts when Hawley leveled the accusations against her.
Hawley had pointed to cases where Jackson sentenced defendants to timeframes below those suggested by the U.S. Sentencing Commission — a panel on which Jackson served for a period of time.