Mary Claire Jalonik and Mark Sherman

WASHINGTON (AP) – Supreme Court candidate Ketanjie Brown Jackson on Tuesday strongly defended her record as a federal judge, dismissing Republican allegations that she is lenient about crimes and saying she would run as an “independent lawyer”. if confirmed as the first black woman. in high court.

Republicans aggressively questioned Jackson about the sentences she handed down to sex offenders over nine years as a judge, her defense on behalf of Guantanamo terrorism suspects, her views on critical race theory and even her religious views. At one point, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas read a children’s book that he said was taught at her teenage daughter’s school.

Several Republican senators have sentenced her to child pornography, arguing that they are lighter than recommended federal recommendations. She responded that she based her sentences on many factors, not just recommendations, and said some cases had caused her nightmares.

Could her decisions have endangered children? “As a mother and a judge,” she said, “nothing can be further from the truth.”

In what Judge Dick Durbin, Illinois, described as a “test,” Jackson sought to address Republican concerns and emphasize the empathic style she often described when passing sentences. Republican Republicans, some of whom look to the presidency, have tried to denounce it – and Democrats in general – as soft to crime, which is a topic in the Republican Party’s midterm campaigns.

Jackson told the committee that her brother and two uncles served as police officers, and that “crime and influence on society, as well as the need for law enforcement, are not abstract concepts or political slogans for me.”

Tuesday’s hearing was the first of two days of questioning after Jackson and 22 commission members made introductory remarks Monday. On Thursday, the committee will hear legal experts before a possible vote to move her candidacy to the Senate.

President Joe Biden elected Jackson in February, fulfilling his campaign to nominate black women to the Supreme Court for the first time in American history. She will replace Judge Stephen Breyer, who announced in January that he would retire after 28 years in court. Jackson will be the third black judge after Turgud Marshall and Clarence Thomas and the sixth woman.

With the exception of unexpected events, Democrats, who control the Senate with the least, hope to complete Jackson’s approval by Easter, though Breer will not leave until the current session ends this summer.

She said the potential to become the first black woman on the court was “extremely significant” and that she received many letters from young girls. Jackson, who grew up in Miami, noted that she did not have to attend public schools with racial segregation like her own parents, “and the fact that we went so far was a testament to my country’s hopes and promises.”

Her nomination also “maintains public confidence in the judiciary,” Jackson said.

Responding to Republicans who questioned whether she was too liberal in her judicial philosophy, Jackson said she was trying to “understand what the people who created the law intended.” She said she relies on the words of the statutes, but also turns to history and practice when the meaning may be unclear.

Democrats were full of praise for Biden’s candidacy for the Supreme Court, noting that she would be not only the first black woman but also the first public defender in court, and the first to experience representing low-income defendants after Judge Marshall.

Republicans also appreciated the experience, but also questioned it, focusing in particular on the work she performed about 15 years ago, representing Guantanamo detainees. Jackson said public defenders do not choose their clients and “uphold the constitutional value of representation.” She said she continued to represent the interests of one client in private practice because her firm accidentally got his case.

Picking up a topic raised by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and expanded by the Republican National Committee in fundraising emails, Cruz asked Jackson about her sentences for child pornographers, at one point putting up a large plaque with posters and circling suggestions he said he considered outrageous.

Cruz – who along with Hawley is a potential presidential candidate in 2024 – asked Jackson if the “children’s voice” had been heard.

Reiterating that she is a mother, Jackson defended her decisions, saying she takes into account not only the principles of sentencing, but also the stories of victims, the nature of crimes and the history of defendants.

“The judge doesn’t play numbers,” she said. “The judge is considering all these different factors.”

The White House dismissed Howley’s criticism as “toxic and underrepresented.” Sentencing expert Douglas Berman, an Ohio law professor, wrote in his blog that while Jackson’s record shows she is skeptical of the range of prison terms recommended for child pornography, “so have prosecutors in most of her cases and so are district judges throughout the country. “

In addition to crime, Republicans have raised issues that have proved to be a win-win for them in recent campaigns.

Jackson brightened up questions from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who voted for her approval as a judge of the Court of Appeals last year, but openly expressed his disappointment after President Joe Biden chose her before a South Carolina judge. Graham asked her about her religion and how often she goes to church, in angry comments, citing what he said was an unfair criticism of Catholicism by Judge Amy Connie Barrett before her confirmation in 2020.

Jackson – who thanked God in her opening remarks and said that faith “supports me in this moment” – replied that she was a Protestant. But she said she did not want to talk about her faith in detail because “I want to remember the need for public confidence in my ability to put forward my personal views.”

As for critical race theory, a controversial topic, especially in some public schools, she told Cruz: “I have never studied critical race theory, never used it, it is not found in my work as a judge.”

Responding to a question about abortion, Jackson readily agreed with the comments made by Judges Barrett and Brett Cavanaugh while awaiting approval. “Rowe and Casey are a permanent Supreme Court law concerning the right to terminate a woman’s pregnancy. They created a framework that was confirmed by the court, ”Jackson said.

The responses of Senator Diana Feinstein, California, and Jackson have bypassed a key point: the court is now considering whether to overturn those cases that affirm the nationwide right to abortion.

On Tuesday, the White House said Biden had watched part of the hearing and was proud of “Jackson’s mercy and dignity.”

The president was amazed at how “she quickly shattered conspiracy theories put forward in bad faith,” said White House Deputy Spokesman Chris Miger.


Associated Press authors Jessica Gresco, Lisa Mascara, Josh Boke, Colin Long and Kevin Frecking of Washington and Aaron Morrison of New York contributed to this report.

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