Biden’s Supreme Court nominee to face Senate confirmation hearing

Joe Biden’s US Supreme Court nominee will face the Senate judiciary committee as a hearing begins to vet the appeals court judge who could become the first black woman to sit on America’s highest court.

Ketanji Brown Jackson will be questioned by the committee’s 22 members during the course of the hearing, which is expected to start with opening statements on Monday and conclude by Thursday. After the committee votes on whether to advance her nomination, the full Senate will render its final verdict on whether she will fill the lifetime seat vacated by Stephen Breyer.

The White House last week said Jackson had met 44 Republican and Democratic senators, including the full judiciary committee, in a number of conversations Supreme Court nominees typically hold ahead of their confirmation hearings. The American Bar Association’s federal judiciary committee deemed her “well qualified” to serve on the court, its highest rating.

Supreme Court confirmations have become an increasingly fraught political process in recent years. Barring any surprises, Jackson is expected to receive overwhelming support among the Senate’s Democrats and possibly some backing among moderate Republicans.

But even if she is likely to be confirmed, some Republican senators could use Jackson’s hearing as an issue to “gin up the base” ahead of midterm elections in November, or to further their own presidential ambitions, said Barbara Perry, Supreme Court and presidency scholar at the University of Virginia.

The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, last week highlighted support Jackson had received from a group he described as “far left”. He said on Sunday that he had not yet decided how he was going to vote on her confirmation.

Dick Durbin, the Democratic senator from Illinois and Senate judiciary committee chair who will preside over Jackson’s hearing, said Jackson had received support from “across the political spectrum”.

One Republican member of the judiciary committee, Josh Hawley from Missouri, last week accused Jackson of showing excessive leniency for sex offenders in the past, as a judge and a policymaker. The White House pushed back, calling it “toxic and weakly presented misinformation”, a response that Mike Lee, a Republican senator from Utah who also sits on the judiciary committee, called “dismissive, dangerous and offensive”.

While Jackson may encounter Republican pushback, Perry said that unless something unexpected emerged, it is “probably the case that she will be confirmed”.

Despite the typical political wrangling around Supreme Court appointments, some experts have argued Jackson’s confirmation just last year by a bipartisan Senate vote to the federal appeals court in Washington DC — and before that as a member of the US sentencing commission and as a federal district judge — could work in her favour.

Jackson’s confirmation would allow Biden to fulfil his presidential campaign pledge to appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court. It also represents his first, and potentially only, opportunity to put his stamp on the US’s highest court, a move that would encourage the Democratic party’s progressive base after the three justices appointed by Donald Trump tilted the bench’s balance 6-3 in favour of conservatives.

Durbin last week said that Jackson’s appearance before the committee would represent a “historic moment” and her confirmation would bring the court “closer to fully reflecting the diversity of America”.

Jackson’s legal career has spanned Harvard Law School and clerking for Breyer on the Supreme Court to private practice and a role as a federal public defender.

While she would not alter the bench’s ideological balance, Jackson’s appointment would stop liberals losing further ground on the court.

Before Breyer retires from the court where he has served for almost three decades, he will take part in several high-profile decisions, including a case brought by the state of Mississippi, which has asked the Supreme Court to over-rule Roe vs Wade, the 1973 decision that legalised abortion across the US.

On Sunday, the court announced that Justice Clarence Thomas had been hospitalised with a “flu-like” infection and was being treated with antibiotics.

He was expected to be released in a couple of days, it said.

Source: Financial Times