Cruz presses Jackson on Critical Race Theory being taught at school where she serves on the board

Sen. Blackburn and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson sparred over transgender issues during the hearing

Updated: March 23, 2022 - 3:00am

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On the second day of Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation hearings, senators are questioning the nominee. 

Jackson is facing as many as 11 hours of questions Tuesday from the Judiciary committee, during which time senators will have their best shot at getting to know the judge, her judicial philosophy, and record. Democrats are not expected to provide much by way of challenging questions to Jackson, but Republicans have made it clear that they're after some tough conversations.

"Any nominee to the highest bench ought to welcome tough scrutiny, tough questions and a rigorous review of their record. The country deserves nothing less and this is what Senate Republicans will provide," said GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky).

At the outset of the Tuesday hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the committee's chairman, pre-empted some of the subjects that Republicans are expected to address. He asked the nominee her opinion on so-called court packing, to which she declined to provide an assessment.

"My North Star is the consideration of the proper role of a judge in our constitutional scheme and in my view, judges should not be speaking to political issues, and certainly not a nominee for a position on the Supreme Court," she said.

Now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett provided a similar response during her October 2020 confirmation hearing.

Durbin also provided Jackson the opportunity to discuss the more controversial matter of her role in cases dealing with child pornography, following accusations from Republicans – specifically, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) – of a pattern of light sentencing for offenders. 

"As a mother and a judge who has had to deal with these cases I was thinking that nothing could be further from the truth. These are some of the most difficult cases a judge has to deal with because we are talking about pictures of sex abuse of children," said Jackson. 

Jackson was asked how she responds to those who suggested she's soft on crime or anti-law enforcement due her to record as a public defender. In her answer, she mentioned that he brother was a police officer in Baltimore. 

"I care deeply about public safety," she said.

Jackson also said the U.S. criminal justice allows individuals who are accused of crimes to be treated fairly.

"It's very important to me," she said.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the committee, asked Jackson about her option on cameras in the courtroom.

"I would want to discuss with the other justices their views and understand all of the various potential issues related to cameras in the courtroom before I took a position on it," she said.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham asked Jackson how faithful she would describe herself on a scale of 1 to 10.

"I am reluctant to talk about my faith in this way," she said. "I want to be mindful of the need for the public to have confidence in my ability to separate out my personal views."

Graham said he mentioned faith because Judge Amy Coney Barrett was treated "poorly" during her confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court. 

"You should be proud of your faith. I am convinced that whatever faith you have and how often you go to church it will not affect your ability to be fair," he said. "I just hope, going in the future, we can all accept that."

During the hearing, Graham argued that African American conservative and liberal nominees for the high court are held to a different standard by Democrats and the media.

If you’re an African American conservative woman, you’re fair game to have your life turned upside down, to be filibustered no matter how qualified you are,” Graham said. “And if you express your faith as a conservative, all of a sudden you’re an effing nut.”

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn questioned Jackson about calling former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and former President George W. Bush war criminals in a legal filing.

"I don't remember that particular reference," she said. "I did not intend to disparage the president or the secretary of defense."

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz pressed Jackson, who serves on the board of the Georgetown Day School, about Critical Race Theory. 

Cruz named books related to race and ending policing that he said are part of the curriculum at the private school. Cruz asked Jackson if she thinks CRT should be taught at the private school.  

"I don't know," Jackson said. "The board does not control of the curriculum. The board does not focus on that."

She also said CRT “doesn’t come up in the work that I do as a judge.”

Under questioning from Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn about transgender issues, Jackson declined to provide a definition of a woman. 

"Do you agree with Justice Ginsburg that there are physical differences between men and women that are enduring?" Blackburn  asked.

“Senator, respectfully I am not familiar with that particular quote or case, so it's hard for me to comment," Jackson replied.

Blackburn followed up and asked her to provide a definition for a woman.

"Can I provide a definition? No," Jackson said. "I can't."

Some Republicans had questions about Jackson's history as a public defender and her time serving on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Records of her time on the commission haven’t been released. Democrats have brushed off any accusations that Jackson's record suggests she is "soft on crime." 

"It's a campaign theme for 2022. I don't think there's any credibility to it," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Judiciary chairman. 

Most notably, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told the judge and press that he wants to discuss Jackson's sentencing history in past child pornography cases. Defenders of Jackson have pushed back on Hawley's discussion point, accusing the senator of taking the cases out of context.

Hawley has repeatedly said that he’s enjoyed his previous discussions with Jackson and looks forward to having another candid one about her record.

During the first day of the hearings, Graham defended Hawley's right to question Jackson's sentencing history.

"We're going to ask you what we think you need to be asked. And Senator Hawley, you need to ask her about her record as a district court judge. You should. I hope you do. And we'll see what she says, very fair game," he said.

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