Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation hearing: Day 1

By Tierney Sneed, Maureen Chowdhury, Melissa Macaya and Dan Berman, CNN

Updated 10:42 PM ET, Tue March 22, 2022
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11:50 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin: "You, Judge Jackson, can be the first"

From CNN's Tierney Sneed

Sen. Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, right, speaks as Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 21, 2022.
Sen. Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, right, speaks as Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 21, 2022. (J. Scott Applewhite/Pool/Getty Images)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin’s opening statement emphasized the groundbreaking nature of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Noting that the Supreme Court’s make up has “never really reflected the nation” the court served, the Democratic senator from Illinois directly addressed the fact that Jackson would be the first Black female justice if confirmed.

“Not a single justice has been a Black woman. You, Judge Jackson, can be the first,” Durbin said. “It's not easy being the first. Often you have to be the best. In some ways, the bravest. Many are not prepared to face that kind of heat, that kind of scrutiny, that ordeal and the glare of the national spotlight," he said.

He said that with her nomination, "We can be confident that the court, its role, and its decisions will be more understandable to the American public."

11:18 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

"Every day, KBJ": Black women rally behind Ketanji Brown Jackson ahead of SCOTUS confirmation hearings

From CNN's Eva McKend and Chandelis Duster

(Sarah Silbiger for CNN)
(Sarah Silbiger for CNN)

Several women-led groups held a rally in front of the Supreme Court on Monday to bolster support for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ahead of her Senate confirmation hearings

The National Women’s Law Center Action Fund, She Will Rise, Black Women’s Roundtable and other organizations hosted the rally, pushing for the Senate to confirm Jackson – who would be the first Black woman on the high court. “Every day, KBJ,” “Confirm her today,” and “1, 2, 3, 4 confirm her” were among the many chants heard at the rally attended by dozens. 

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center, told the crowd Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court is “personal.” 

 “This is a moment that is historic but also filled with so much possibility for all of us,” she said. 
(Sarah Silbiger for CNN)
(Sarah Silbiger for CNN)

Jackson’s nomination has inspired many who long for representation on the court in its 233-year history as Black women continue to shatter glass ceilings in the political sphere.

Sophia Fouzi, age 10 and daughter of She Will Rise founder Kimberly Tignor, told CNN, “It inspires me and a bunch of girls and women.” 

Founded in August 2020, She Will Rise advocated hard for the first Black woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court. The organization will continue to focus on urging for Black women to be in judicial pipelines throughout the US.

“When I’m older I’d like to think bigger than the Supreme Court. I would like to be the first African American female President,” Fouzi told CNN. 

(Sarah Silbiger for CNN)
(Sarah Silbiger for CNN)

Black women traveled from all over the country to support Jackson’s confirmations including from as far as Vermont.

“We have so many amazing people of color and women of color who want to step into spaces and places of decision making and we are needing to be here to support and honor the work of Judge Jackson,” said former Vermont State Rep. Kiah Morris, executive director of the progressive activist group Rights & Democracy.

Counter protestors were in attendance as well, beating a drum and chanting, “Women deserve better. Abortion hurts women.”

11:14 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

NOW: Historic Supreme Court confirmation hearings begin

From CNN's Alex Rogers

(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
(Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

The Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson have begun.

If confirmed, Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve on the nation's highest court.

Democrats have touted President Biden's pick as a qualified, "historic" nominee, while Republicans have criticized her record on crime and the support she holds from left-wing groups.

Here's what will happen at today's hearing:

  • Jackson and the senators will make their opening statements establishing the arguments for and against her confirmation.
  • Jackson will be introduced by Judge Thomas Griffith, formerly of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Lisa Fairfax, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

Jackson will then answer questions from the members on Tuesday and Wednesday, and witnesses will testify on Thursday. Democrats hope to confirm Jackson by early April.

More on the nominee: Jackson, 51, sits on DC's federal appellate court and had been considered the front-runner for the vacancy since Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement. Jackson worked as a clerk for Breyer, a federal public defender, an attorney in private practice, a federal district court judge and a member of the US Sentencing Commission.

10:55 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

How Ketanji Brown Jackson is preparing for questions about her record on crime

From CNN's Ariane de Vogue

(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Like most every other nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been participating behind closed doors in so-called "moot court" sessions to prepare for her upcoming hearings, according to a source familiar.

Under the system, allies play the role of hostile senators, launching questions or comments meant to rattle a nominee or throw her off course.

At these sessions — sometimes referred to as "murder boards" due to their intensity — Jackson will likely be grilled on allegations Republicans have already floated: That she is soft on crime.

Her supporters believe the Republican strategy during the hearings is two-fold: Raise questions about Jackson's experience as a judge, public defender, her time spent on a federal commission that ultimately slashed drug sentences, and briefs she crafted supporting detainees at Guantanamo Bay. After that, they could pivot to attack the policies of the Biden administration in general.

But Jackson — who saw a preview of some similar questions the last time she went before Congress less than a year ago — will be prepared.

Already, for example, Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley launched a Twitter thread on Wednesday charging that Jackson's record reveals a "pattern" of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes, both as a judge and as a policymaker.

"This goes beyond 'soft on crime,'" he charged.

In its first flash of anger concerning her nomination, the White House blasted Hawley for the attacks. A White House spokesman called the tweets "toxic and weakly-presented misinformation that relies on taking cherry-picked elements of her record out of context — and it buckles under the lightest scrutiny."

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin said Sunday that Hawley was "wrong" and "unfair in his analysis."

"Judge Jackson has been scrutinized more than any person I can think of. This is her fourth time before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In three previous times, she came through with flying colors and bipartisan support, the last time as soon as just last year," the Illinois Democrat said on ABC's "This Week."

A CNN review of the material in question shows that Jackson has mostly followed the common judicial sentencing practices in these kinds of cases, and that Hawley took some of her comments out of context by suggesting they were opinions, rather than follow-up questions to subject-matter experts.

Read more here.

10:46 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

The Senate will soon begin Supreme Court hearings for Biden's nominee. Here are key things to know. 

From CNN's Shawna Mizelle

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will begin soon, with Democratic leaders setting a goal of reaching a final Senate vote by early April.

If the historic nomination process is successful, Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve on the nation's highest court.

Jackson, 51, currently sits on DC's federal appellate court and had been considered the front-runner for the vacancy since Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement in January.

President Biden, who vowed during the 2020 campaign to select a Black woman to the Supreme Court should a vacancy arise, has already elevated Jackson once, appointing her last year to the appeals court in DC, which is considered the second most powerful federal court in the country.

Because of that appellate appointment, she's already been through a vetting process that included an interview with the President himself. Last June, the Senate confirmed Jackson by a 53-44 vote.

If elevated to the high court, she would follow in the footsteps of the likes of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who took the seats of the justices they had worked for.

Jackson clerked for Breyer during the 1999 term after serving as a clerk in 1997-1998 to Judge Bruce M. Selya, a federal judge in Massachusetts.

What happens today: Monday's hearing will begin at 11 a.m. ET, with opening statements from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, an introduction of Jackson by Judge Thomas Griffith, formerly of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Lisa Fairfax, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, and Jackson's opening statement.

Committee members will begin questioning the nominee on Tuesday, starting at 9 a.m. ET. There will be hearings everyday through Thursday.

The hearings will take place in the Hart Senate Office Building.

10:44 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

The American Bar Association rated Supreme Court nominee Jackson as "well qualified" — its highest rating

From CNN's Veronica Stracqualursi

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The American Bar Association on Friday rated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as "well qualified" — its highest rating — to serve on the US Supreme Court, ahead of her confirmation hearings this week.

The association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary was unanimous in its evaluation of Jackson's professional qualifications."The Standing Committee is of the unanimous opinion that Judge Jackson is 'Well Qualified' to serve on the United States Supreme Court," Ann Claire Williams, the committee's chair, wrote in a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will conduct the hearings.

Biden nominated Jackson on Feb. 25 to fill the court's vacancy since liberal justice Stephen Breyer announced his impending retirement. If confirmed, Jackson would be the first Black woman to sit on the highest court in the nation.

Confirmation hearings on Jackson's nomination begin Monday, with Democratic leaders pushing to have a final Senate vote by April 8. Jackson met with Democratic and Republican senators on Capitol Hill ahead of the hearings.

The American Bar Association "confines its evaluation to the qualities of integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament," Williams says in the letter.

The association's website notes it has been evaluating the professional qualifications of Supreme Court nominees for more than 60 years and that it does not take into consideration a nominee's "philosophy, political affiliation or ideology" when making its determinations.

1:04 p.m. ET, March 21, 2022

Here's what Biden's Supreme Court nominee might be grilled on this week 

From CNN's Tierney Sneed and Ariane de Vogue

(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has already appeared before the Senate three times in confirmation proceedings for prior roles. But several days of hearings for her Supreme Court nomination this week will be the highest-profile — and likely most contentious — grilling that Jackson has faced from lawmakers.

Democrats have signaled they will highlight the historic nature of her nomination — if confirmed, she'll be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court — and her qualifications, which lawmakers of both parties have described as impressive.

But Senate Republicans say they still have questions about Jackson's record, even as they've said they'll keep proceedings substantive and dignified.

Jackson, a Harvard Law graduate who grew up in Miami, has served less than a year in her current role on the DC US Circuit Court of Appeals. Before that, she was a judge on DC's federal trial court for eight years. She also vice-chaired the US Sentencing Commission between 2010 and 2014. All three roles required her to sit for Senate confirmation testimony — in hearings that featured a more low-key tone than what is expected this week.

The two days of Jackson questioning will begin Tuesday, after a round of proceedings Monday featuring opening statements and her introduction.

Here is what might come up at her hearing:

"Soft on crime" framing: Senate Judiciary Republicans have grilled lower court nominees on criminal justice policies that they describe as soft on crime. And in floor remarks on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell previewed that focus on Jackson. His speech critiqued the praise she has received from supporters for how her experience as a public defender gives her "empathy" as a judge.

"Even amidst the national crime wave, a disproportionate share of the new judges President (Joe) Biden has nominated share this professional background that liberals say gives special empathy for criminal defendants," the Kentucky Republican said. He added that Biden "is deliberately working to make the whole federal judiciary soft on crime."

Jackson may point to her personal background to counter this attack, as she has done before. With an uncle who was prosecuted for a drug offense, and several members of her family — including her brother — who served in law enforcement, Jackson has relationships that she says have helped her see both sides of the issue.

Scrutiny of her approach to child porn offenses: An extension of the "soft on crime" attack is the claim, somewhat misleadingly made by GOP Sen. Josh Hawley last week, that Jackson is soft on child pornography crimes.

His claims rely on two factors: First is her sentencing record in some cases, which is within the mainstream of how many other judges approach the offenses in question; second are statements she's made about the legal issues around sex crimes, including in a 1996 law review article and in her role on the sentencing commission.

Some of the sentencing commission comments Hawley highlighted were in response to the testimony of witnesses at commission hearings. A review of the hearing transcript and interviews with two experts who testified belie the claim that Jackson showed leniency toward child pornography during a daylong session that Hawley quoted from in questioning her record. Still, the Missouri Republican has stood by his criticism.

Work on the US Sentencing Commission: In addition to the commission work on child sex crimes, other aspects of Jackson's tenure there could come up. Before serving as vice chair, she served a two-year stint as an assistant special counsel for the commission in the mid-2000s.

Republicans are poring over thousands of documents for more information on the stances she took while working for the commission.

Read more about questions she may face here.

5:24 p.m. ET, March 21, 2022

A look at how Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson handled Trump and executive privilege cases

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has already ruled in epic battles between Congress and former President Donald Trump, rebuffing efforts to shield White House testimony and records.

President Biden's Supreme Court nominee, who begins Senate hearings today, twice sided with US House committees trying to wrest information from Trump and his top aides. She endorsed a robust role for judges to resolve clashes between the legislative and executive branches, putting her at odds with GOP-appointed judges who found such politically charged controversies beyond the realm of judicial power.

"What I don't understand," Jackson said during a 2019 hearing over testimony sought from former White House counsel Don McGahn, "is this notion that the judiciary can't play its traditional role in deciding what the law is between these other branches. The Constitution itself sets the system in that way."

Jackson is certain to face new conflicts between congressional investigators and Trump, as well as with Biden and his successors. Ongoing cases involving Trump and the powers of government could land before her, including disputes over whether Congress can access Trump's financial records and whether Trump could be held accountable by private litigants for the January 6 insurrection.

Jackson's cases testing the checks and balances between the branches, among the most important from her nine years on lower courts, offer a window into her judicial method and courtroom style.

Overseeing the McGahn case, she showed a take-charge approach, sprinkled with lighthearted moments.

She announced at the outset that she did not intend to "truncate" the hearing, which ended up going four hours. "It's not my practice to impose time limits," said Jackson, then a US district judge. "I find them distracting." As the hours wore on that October 31, 2019, she expressed regret for keeping the lawyers from getting home for Halloween.

When she asked a Department of Justice lawyer to speak slower, she added, "You're an excellent advocate, but I'm just trying to latch on." The lawyer said he appreciated the compliment because his mother was watching. She rejoined, "He's very good."

In the end, Jackson's 120-page opinion in Committee on the Judiciary v. McGahn went against the Department of Justice, which had taken up Trump's effort to prevent the former White House counsel from testifying. The House Judiciary Committee was looking at the time into possible Trump obstruction of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and had subpoenaed McGahn testimony.

Read the full story here.

10:37 a.m. ET, March 21, 2022

Though historic, Jackson's confirmation would not change the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court

From CNN's Jake Tapper, Ariane de Vogue, Jeff Zeleny, Betsy Klein and Maegan Vazquez

(Stefani Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
(Stefani Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on Feb. 25, setting in motion a historic confirmation process for the first Black woman to sit on the highest court in the nation.

"Today, as we watch freedom and liberty under attack abroad, I'm here to fulfill my responsibilities under the Constitution, to preserve freedom and liberty here in the United States of America," Biden said at the White House as he introduced Jackson.

"For too long, our government, our courts haven't looked like America," Biden said. "I believe it's time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications, and that we inspire all young people to believe that they can one day serve their country at the highest level."

Jackson, 51, currently sits on DC's federal appellate court and had been considered the front-runner for the vacancy since Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement.

"I must begin these very brief remarks by thanking God for delivering me to this point in my professional journey. My life has been blessed beyond measure and I do know that one can only come this far by faith," Jackson said.

Though historic, the choice of Jackson will not change the ideological makeup of the court.

The court currently has six conservative justices and three liberal justices — and the retiring Breyer comes from the liberal camp. The court is already poised to continue its turn toward the right with high-profile cases and rulings expected from the court in the coming months on abortion, gun control and religious liberty issues.