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Julianna Pijar / Gavel Media

Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearings: Disrespect on Full Display

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Joe Biden's Supreme Court nominee, underwent 23 hours of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee over the span of two days. She endured pointless questions and disrespectful attempts to paint her character in a way that only sought to serve certain political agendas. From questions about critical race theory in schools to her sentencing on child sex abuse cases, Republicans seemed to grasp at anything in order to paint the judge in a negative way, all the while continuously interrupting and talking over her. 

Republicans repeatedly brought up hot button issues in trying to portray her as an apologist for child sex abusers and as a radicalist on issues of race and gender. One attempt to trap the judge was Senator Marsha Blackburn's questioning about the swimmer Lia Thomas and the participation of transgender women in sports. She proceeded to ask Judge Jackson to provide a definition for the word 'woman', in which Jackson said that she could not. While this was not a radical response due to the question not being connected to any case coming from the Supreme Court or connected to her role as a judge, it was seemingly all the conservatives needed in order to run with the 'Jackson can't define the word woman' argument.

There was repeated contingency on Jackson's sentencing of child sex abusers, during which Jackson endured hours of questioning about her sentencing history. Senator Cruz asked her to explain why she gave people with vile crimes very low sentences, after which Senator Josh Hawley inquired if Jackson regretted giving a "slap on the wrist" to an offender she sentenced that was arrested again after his release. She responded by saying that what she does regret is that "in a hearing about my qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court, we have spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences." Democrats refuted the claims that she was lenient on sentencing, saying that it fell in the mainstream of federal judges. 

While Republicans made a statement to say that their questioning at the hearing was "not about race," as Senator Ted Cruz put it, they undoubtedly fired race- and gender-based questions at her. Senator Cruz questioned Jackson about her stance on critical race theory, asking her if it was an accurate view of the society that we live in. Jackson replied that she is not an expert on critical race theory, and that the question did not seem to be relevant to her work as a judge, which is what she was there to address. Cruz proceeded to ask her about a book taught at a private school at which Jackson serves on the board, pulling up a blown up image from one of the pages before asking her if she agrees with this book in that babies are racist.  

Why are people of color expected to be experts on race and answer raced-based questions, regardless of how irrelevant it is to the setting? There was no need to berate Jackson with endless questions about critical race theory, especially when it had no connection to her role as a judge, but rather to her understanding of children's books. Not only that, but the tone of certain Republican senators going into the questioning was appalling. Senator Lindsey Graham said that "on our side, it's about, we're all racist, if we ask hard questions." The repeated questioning on topics she already answered or said didn't relate to her role as a judge demonstrates the extreme disrespect that was laid on her by members of the committee. Senator Alex Padilla said that "this confirmation hearing has been a reminder—and in some ways, a new Exhibit A—that for people of color, particularly those who have the audacity to try to be the first, [they] often have to work twice as hard to get half the respect."

Rather than an event in which government officials question and discern whether a judge is fit to serve a life-tenured position on the highest court, Republicans used it as a chance to push their own agendas leading up to the midterm election by painting Democrats as being loose on certain laws and as extremists on issues of race and gender, all the while continuing to disrespect Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and the reason she was there. Asking hotbox questions about gender and critical race theory is not going to answer how well Jackson is going to be able to serve on a court in which you look at specific cases and make decisions in accordance with the law. 

After pushing through the brutal questioning, Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed by the Senate April 7th with a 53-47 vote. She is now the first Black woman to be on the Supreme Court—an immensely important and historic event. 

The resilience and calmness that Jackson demonstrated during the questioning further displays her preparedness for the Supreme Court, not to mention that she will be the only Supreme Court judge with experience as a public defender on top of her experience as a District judge, Court of Appeals judge, sentencing commission, and Supreme Court clerk. With Jackon's qualifications and thoughtful responses, she nonetheless prevailed from the abysmal questioning that was on display during the confirmation hearing and has helped pave the way for the beginnings of a more diverse and representative Supreme Court.