Judging a Judge on Race and Crime, G.O.P. Plays to Base and Fringe

WASHINGTON — After all of the entreaties from top Republicans to show respect at Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings, Senator Ted Cruz on Tuesday afternoon chose to grill the first Black woman nominated for the Supreme Court on her views on critical race theory and insinuate that she was soft on child sexual abuse.

The message from the Texas Republican seemed clear: A Black woman vying for a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the land would, Mr. Cruz suggested, coddle criminals, go easy on pedophiles and subject white people to the view that they were, by nature, oppressors.

The attack, the most dramatic of several launched from inside and outside the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing room, contained barely coded appeals to racism and clear nods to the fringes of the conservative world. Two other Republican senators, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, had already signaled they would go after Judge Jackson by accusing her of having a soft spot for criminals, especially pedophiles, and an allegiance to “woke” racialized education. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, also pressed the issue on Tuesday night.

None of those issues were connected to cases coming before the Supreme Court — or to cases ever decided by the court. They were amplified outside the chamber by institutional Republicans and the conservative media. Fox News ran a headline reading “Ketanji Brown Jackson serves on board of school that promotes critical race theory,” and the Republican National Committee shared a GIF on Twitter showing the judge’s picture with her initials, “KBJ,” crossed out and replaced by “CRT.”