Late in the hearing on Tuesday, Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee claimed that Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson had disparaged women who oppose abortion. Blackburn, however, was twisting the contents of a legal brief Jackson co-authored in 2001.
Blackburn claimed that, when Jackson was in private practice, “You made your views on pro-life, and the pro-life movement, very clear. And in fact, you attacked pro-life women. And this was in a brief that you wrote. You described them, and I’m quoting: ‘Hostile, noisy crowd of in-your-face protesters.’ And you advocated against these women’s First Amendment right to express their sincerely held views regarding the sanctity of each individual life.”
Shortly afterward, Blackburn, who described herself as “a pro-life woman,” said she finds it “incredibly concerning” that a nominee to be a lifetime Supreme Court justice has “such a hostile view” toward pro-life sentiment. And Blackburn asked Jackson if she thinks of pro-life women at church, or even Blackburn herself, as noisy, hostile and in-your-face.
Facts First: Blackburn mischaracterized what this 2001 legal brief said. It did not broadly describe pro-life women as hostile, noisy or in-your-face. Rather, Jackson and her co-authors used the phrase “hostile, noisy crowd of ‘in-your-face’ protesters” specifically to describe pro-life activists who confront patients outside reproductive health clinics. The brief was written on behalf of clients who operated and supported these clinics.
The Massachusetts case was about “buffer zones” outside clinics, areas in which pro-life protesters would be prohibited from approaching patients. The brief Jackson co-authored as a young associate — along with partners at her firm – said this:
“Few American citizens who seek to exercise constitutionally protected rights must run a gauntlet through a hostile, noisy crowd of ‘in-your-face’ protesters. Still fewer citizens, when seeking medical or surgical care — particularly care involving deeply private matters — must confront a crowd swarming around them, shouting in their faces, blocking their way, and thrusting disturbing photographs and objects at them. Yet on any given day, patients of reproductive health clinics may face all of these.”
So “hostile, noisy crowd of ‘in-your-face’ protesters” was clearly not a general description of Americans who oppose abortion.
Jackson explained to Blackburn on Tuesday that the case was about buffer zones and that she had used this language on behalf of clients.
“Senator,” she said, “I drafted a brief along with the partners in my law firm, who reviewed it, and we filed it on behalf of our client, in — to advance our clients’ arguments that they wanted to make in the case.”