Jackson Hearings Should Have Come With A Trigger Warning For Black Women

The GOP's questions for Jackson during this week's confirmation hearings tapped into long-standing American grievances over race, class and public safety.

NEW YORK (AP) 鈥 鈥淪enator,鈥 she said, letting out an audible sigh.

In that singular moment, Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson spoke for countless Black women who have had to gather all the patience, strength and grace within to answer insinuating questions about their credentials, qualifications and character.

It was Day One of questioning at the Senate Judiciary Committee as the Harvard-educated Jackson, the first Black woman to be nominated for the nation鈥檚 highest court, was making history.

The federal judge had to endure hours of public scrutiny from skeptics, namely the Republican senators who are erecting a wall of opposition to her landmark nomination, the first in the court鈥檚 233-year history, and may vote en bloc against her confirmation.

鈥淚t was really traumatizing to watch,鈥 said Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women鈥檚 Roundtable.

From questioning of Jackson鈥檚 view of books on critical race theory that drew her exasperated sigh 鈥 鈥淭hey don鈥檛 come up in my work as a judge,鈥 she said 鈥 to the loaded suggestion that the sentences she imposed on child pornography defendants were too lenient, the questions from the Republicans tapped into long-standing American grievances over race, class and public safety.

The insinuations that Jackson, a distinguished jurist and mother of two, is a secret radical liberal or poses a danger to the safety of children felt to some supporters as yet another example of highly qualified Black women having to endure indignities and distortions of their credentials, even as they shatter racial barriers in American society.

Campbell told The Associated Press that 鈥渢he othering of her, in a sense, like she鈥檚 against our children,鈥 seemed like a tired political tactic.

鈥淢y spirit feels it was to bring this Black woman down because she鈥檚 about to break the glass ceiling that, once broken, opens the door to more.鈥

Democrats praise President Joe Biden鈥檚 choice of Jackson as long overdue, a chance to start making the court more reflective of the diverse nation it serves. But they have been slow to bolster the judge鈥檚 nomination against the unrelenting attacks and instead allowed them to linger.

Over and over during her hearings, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Josh Hawley of Missouri hammered Jackson on a handful of the many cases she handled as a judge, asking if she regretted having a record that, in their view, is soft on child pornography defendants.

While being questioned by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 23, 2022 in Washington, DC.
While being questioned by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 23, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

No matter how many times Jackson asserted, for example, that the child pornography cases were some of 鈥渢he most difficult鈥 of her career or tried to explain the particulars of the law, the GOP senators talked over her, past her and pushed onward in their attempt to portray the nominee as they wished.

鈥淚 can only wonder what鈥檚 your hidden agenda,鈥 asked Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., pointing to one of the judge鈥檚 earlier writings. 鈥淚s it to let violent criminals cop killers and child predators back to the streets? ... Is it your personal hidden agenda to incorporate critical race theory into our legal system?鈥

These senators insisted their questions were not about race. In fact, Graham opened with a warning that the questioners would be framed as racist. 鈥淲e鈥檙e all racists if we ask hard questions. It鈥檚 not going to fly with us.鈥

Yet Republicans ignored analysis that shows Jackson鈥檚 sentencing record on such cases is on track with other judges appointed by both Democrats and Republican presidents, and that in some cases she went beyond recommendations to come down harder on defendants.

鈥淲hat I regret,鈥 Jackson told the senators, 鈥渋s that in the hearing about my qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court, we鈥檝e spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences.鈥

For many supporters of Jackson, the Republicans鈥 cherry-picking of her record tarnished a momentous occasion.

Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who was a prominent surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders鈥 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, criticized Democratic members on the committee for not defending Jackson more vigorously.

鈥淪he should not have had to endure what she endured,鈥 Turner told the AP. 鈥淭he Democratic senators should have used their authority and positioning to show the requisite outrage necessary for that moment.鈥

 Patrick Jackson, the husband of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, and their daughter Leila Jackson listen as Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) speaks at the confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 23, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Patrick Jackson, the husband of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, and their daughter Leila Jackson listen as Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) speaks at the confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 23, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

Overall, during her time on the district court bench, Jackson presided over 14 total cases of child sexual abuse, interstate travel for child sexual abuse cases and child pornography.

The American Bar Association鈥檚 standing committee on the federal judiciary said in its survey of some 250 judges, attorneys and academics that words such as 鈥渂rilliant,鈥 鈥渂eyond reproach,鈥 鈥渇air鈥 were used to describe Jackson, who earned the panel鈥檚 highest rating.

鈥淭hey uniformly rejected any accusations of bias,鈥 said Jean Veta of the ABA committee.

In a letter to the Senate committee, Fred Bowman, a University of Missouri law professor and former federal prosecutor, spoke of his dismay at the thought Jackson was somehow 鈥渟oft鈥 on these crimes. His letter was signed by other experts in the field.

White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates blasted the Republican line of questioning as an 鈥渆mbarrassing conspiracy theory鈥 that 鈥渉as been conclusively debunked by fact check after fact check.鈥

But alone before the panel, Jackson had difficulty convincing the Republican senators as she worked to explain the rules judges adhere to and the nuances of the wrenching cases they face. The GOP senators rarely accepted the judge鈥檚 answers and interjected or just ignored her explanations altogether.

At one point, Jackson simply stopped answering: 鈥淪enator,鈥 she said to Cruz, 鈥淚鈥檝e said what I鈥檓 going to say about these cases. No one case can stand in for a judge鈥檚 entire record.鈥

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, questions witnesses on the fourth day of the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden's nominee for Associate Justice to the Supreme Court, in Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, on Thursday, March 24, 2022.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, questions witnesses on the fourth day of the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden's nominee for Associate Justice to the Supreme Court, in Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, on Thursday, March 24, 2022.
Tom Williams via Getty Images

By Thursday, as the hearings concluded, Republican leaders in the Senate were using the issue 鈥 and her refusal to repeat earlier answers 鈥 as justification for opposing her confirmation.

Throughout the four days of testimony, Black women filled many of the seats in the committee room. Those women included some of the leading civil rights figures and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which ran its own 鈥渨ar room鈥 to back up Jackson鈥檚 nomination.

LaTosha Brown, cofounder of the group Black Voters Matter, said she had received numerous text messages from Black women who were both outraged by Jackson鈥檚 treatment from senators and heartened by her clear determination to endure the process.

鈥淚 just got texts that said, 鈥楶ersevere.鈥欌

It was a reference to Jackson鈥檚 own words of advice delivered at the hearing to young people who may have watched what the nominee endured and felt discouraged.

鈥淏lack people in America,鈥 Brown said, 鈥渋f we don鈥檛 know anything else, we know what that word means.鈥

___

Mascaro reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Mary Clare Jalonick and Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.

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