The Senate Judiciary Committee began confirmation hearings Monday for Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden's first Supreme Court nominee, and in her opening statement, she spoke about her humble beginnings and thanked President Joe Biden and God.
Democratic lawmakers attempted to quell the assumption that the judge will behave as a "rubber stamp" for the agenda of President Joe Biden, while Republican senators alluded to the judge's history of defending Guantanamo Bay prisoners and exacting light sentences on offenders in child pornography cases.
"I'm thankful for the confidence that President Biden has placed in me and for the kindness that he and the first lady and the vice president and the second gentlemen have extended to me and my family," she said.
She also gave thanks to God. "For it is faith that sustains me to this moment," she said.
Jackson spoke about her family and the support her parents, who were public school teachers, gave her along the way.
"When I was born here in Washington, my parents were public school teachers, and to express both pride in their heritage and hope for the future, they gave me an African name; 'Ketanji Onyika,' which they were told means 'lovely one,'" she said.
"My parents taught me that, unlike the many barriers that they had had to face growing up, my path was clearer, such that if I worked hard and believed in myself, in America I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be," Jackson told the senators.
The opening day of Jackson's hearing occurs as a current member of the bench, Justice Clarence Thomas, remains hospitalized after experiencing flu-like symptoms. Thomas is being treated with intravenous antibiotics and is expected to be released in a day or two. His hospitalization did force him to miss Monday morning arguments at the Supreme Court.
In her opening statement, Jackson noted Monday is the fourth time she has appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to be considered for confirmation.
Another cloud hanging over the Jackson hearing, is the recent treatment of conservative-leaning judicial nominees by the same committee. Nary a GOP Senator who addressed Judge Jackson on Monday failed to bring up the chaos of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh's 2018 confirmation hearing. Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a former Harvard Law School classmate of Jackson's, made mention of the attempt by Senate Democrats to filibuster then-SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch in 2017.
The hearings, which are scheduled to last through Thursday, arrive 24 days after President Biden announced the selection of Jackson to replace the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. If confirmed, Jackson will become the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin is at the head of this confirmation hearing. On Monday, he said, "Today's a proud day for America ... the reality is the court's members in one respect have never really reflected the nation they served."
"You, Judge Jackson, can be the first," he said.
Prior to the hearing, Durbin said he was hopping for a smooth process. "I hope at the end of the day, people say 'that was a good positive hearing,' it went into the issues that people care about. Fingers crossed, we end up with bipartisan support."
Jackson has been confirmed by the Senate on several prior occasions, each time earning bipartisan support. She has spent the past month meeting behind closed doors with senators from both parties, but the hearings present a public opportunity for the nominee to explain her judicial philosophy and discuss in greater detail some of her history in the law.
Republican Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opened the morning by saying that the most important facet of the hearing will be assessing the nominee's judicial philosophy. This is Grassley's 16th Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley has, since last week, been publicly discussing the questions he has pertaining to Jackson's judgements in a handful of child pornography cases. Hawley says Jackson's pattern of handing down light sentences to convicted criminals in child pornography cases is worrying. On Monday, he told the nominee exactly which cases he needs to know more about.
"I'm not interested in trapping Judge Jackson. I'm not interested in playing gotcha," he said, also thanking the judge for the candor of their previous conversations. He proceeded to lay out his public "concerns" about Jackson's sentencing history.
New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker used his time Monday to bring some levity to the room and "rejoice" in the historic nature of Judge Jackson's nomination.
"Let me just acknowledge the fact that this is not normal. It’s never happened before. I can’t tell you how happy I am. Today we should rejoice," he said. "We are opening the doors to diverse talent ... in ways that we’ve never seen before.
Despite GOP concerns, Jackson is expected to clinch the support of all 50 Democratic senators. It is unclear if any Republicans will join their Democratic colleagues for the final vote. With Vice President Kamala Harris to break tie votes, Jackson will be able to be confirmed without any Republican support.
Despite their slim margin of majority, Democrats intend and expect to wrap up Jackson's confirmation by mid-April.
One notable sideshow Monday was Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina's apparent outrage at the treatment of potential Supreme Court contender J. Michelle Childs, a district court nominee and member of President Joe Biden's Supreme Court short list.
"There's been a wholesale effort on the left to take down a nominee from my state. And I don't like it very much," huffed Graham during his opening statement, which paid comparably little attention to the SCOTUS nominee seated before him.
"The attacks from the left against Judge Childs was really pretty vicious, to be honest with you," said Graham.
The South Carolina Sen. said he believed there had been a coordinated effort to boot Childs from contention to be appointed to the high court. "This is a new game for the Supreme Court, and this game is particularly disturbing to me," he said.
Childs, contends Graham, would have received the support of a number of GOP Senators, had she been the nominee. He believes she would have been confirmed with 60 votes (or more), a figure which would have brought a sense of bipartisanship back to the confirmation process that has been noticeably absent since the nomination of now-Justice Neil Gorsuch, and which was forgotten entirely during the tumultuous confirmation process of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Democratic Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse spoke in opposition to Graham's comments, saying that unlike the Republican approach to selecting Supreme Court justices who have been "groomed in partisan petri dishes," Jackson "did not undergo a secret pre-selection process to get here."
Whitehouse has been a vocal critic of the Federalist Society and other conservative groups he believes hold inappropriate sway over the judicial selection process.
Judge Jackson, said Whitehouse, "is before us on the basis of her own merit, not on the recommendation of a secretive right-wing donor operation, hiding behind anonymous multi-million-dollar donations, and aimed at capturing the United States Supreme Court, as if it were some 19th-century railroad commission."