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Ketanji Brown Jackson vows to defend Constitution on first day of Supreme Court hearings

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Hearings begin for historic Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson 04:09

Washington — Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden's nominee for the Supreme Court, addressed senators on the first of four days of confirmation hearings on Monday, telling the lawmakers she would "decide cases from a neutral posture" if they approve her nomination to the high court.

"Members of this committee: If I am confirmed, I commit to you that I will work productively to support and defend the Constitution and the grand experiment of American democracy that has endured over these past 246 years," she told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "During this hearing, I hope that you will see how much I love our country and the Constitution, and the rights that make us free."

With her family seated behind her, Jackson sat silently for most of the 4.5-hour session as the 22 committee members delivered opening statements and previewed their lines of inquiry for the two days of questioning ahead.

Chairman Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, stressed the historic nature of Jackson's nomination, as she will be the first Black woman to serve on the high court if confirmed by the Senate.

"Today's a proud day for America," he declared.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson arrives for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 21, 2022. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Many Democrats echoed Durbin's sentiment and lauded Jackson for shattering barriers with her nomination.

While Republicans, too, applauded Jackson for her nomination, they also previewed the aspects of her professional record they plan to examine, namely the sentences she imposed on child pornography offenders while serving as a judge on the federal district court in Washington and clients she represented as a federal assistant public defender and in private practice.

Many GOP members of the Judiciary panel pledged to avoid personal attacks on Jackson and chided their Democratic colleagues for their handling of Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing in 2018. But they still vowed to probe her judicial philosophy and views of the Supreme Court.

"When we're focused on things that we have no business doing, like bringing forward spurious, last-minute, uncorroborated accusations of a personal nature, we neglect the importance of talking about the jurisprudential role, the philosophy that guides individual jurists," Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, said.

Special Report: Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson gives opening statement in confirmation hearing 23:20

Jackson's four-day confirmation hearings began 24 days after Mr. Biden announced her as his nominee to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court. While her appointment will not alter the ideological balance of the high court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, she will be the second-youngest justice at 51 years old if confirmed and is positioned to serve for decades.

Currently a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Jackson served on the federal district court in Washington for eight years and was a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

The questioning phase of the hearings begins Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., and will continue on Wednesday. Thursday, the last day of hearings, will feature testimony from the American Bar Association and other outside witnesses.


Jackson is sworn in, vowing independence and defense of the Constitution

Senate Confirmation Hearing For Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson
Ketanji Brown Jackson is sworn in during the first day of her Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court on Monday, March 21, 2022. Bloomberg

Jackson was sworn in by Durbin just after 3:20 p.m. and delivered her opening statement to the committee, pledging to support and defend the Constitution if confirmed to the Supreme Court.

"Members of this committee," she said, "if I am confirmed, I commit to you that I will work productively to support and defend the Constitution and this grand experiment of American democracy that has endured over these past 246 years."

Noting her nearly 10 years serving on the federal bench, Jackson said she takes seriously her responsibility to be independent.

"I decide cases from a neutral posture," she told the committee. "I evaluate the facts, and I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me, without fear or favor, consistent with my judicial oath."

Jackson offered gratitude to Mr. Biden for the "confidence" he placed in her and thanked the 45 senators she met with in the lead-up to her confirmation hearings.

"Your careful attention to my nomination demonstrates your dedication to the crucial role that the Senate plays in this constitutional process. And I thank you," she said.

Born in Washington, D.C., Jackson highlighted the lessons instilled in her by her parents, Johnny and Ellery Brown, who were both in attendance. Jackson said her father helped stir her interest in the law, as he was a full-time student at University of Miami Law School when the family moved to Florida.

"My very earliest memories are of watching my father study — he had his stack of law books on the kitchen table while I sat across from him with my stack of coloring books," she said.

Jackson said her parents impressed upon both her and her brother, Ketajh, the value of public service, with her younger brother working as a police officer before joining the Army following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

"Even prior to today, I can honestly say that my life had been blessed beyond measure," she said. "The first of my many blessings is the fact that I was born in this great nation, a little over 50 years ago."

Turning to her experience as a federal judge, Jackson noted her opinions tend to be lengthy, which she said reflects her commitment to being transparent and providing a thorough explanation of her decisions.

"All of my professional experiences, including my work as a public defender and as trial judge, have instilled in me the importance of having each litigant know that the judge in their case has heard them, whether or not their arguments prevailed in court," she said.

Jackson acknowledged her family in attendance at the hearing, including her husband Patrick, daughters Talia and Leila, parents, brother, in-laws, and three college roommates.

Honoring Breyer, for whom she clerked on the Supreme Court, Jackson called it "extremely humbling to be considered for Justice Breyer's seat, and I know that I could never fill his shoes.  But if confirmed, I would hope to carry on his spirit."

"I know that my role as a judge is a limited one, that the Constitution empowers me only to decide cases and controversies that are properly presented, and I know that my judicial role is further constrained by careful adherence to precedent," she said.

Jackson said that across her judicial career, she has worked to ensure the words inscribed above the entrance to the Supreme Court "equal justice under law are a reality and not just an ideal."

By Melissa Quinn

Retired judge and longtime friend introduce Jackson

Retired Judge Thomas Griffith was first to introduce Jackson, calling it a "high honor" to do so. Griffith, who was an influential conservice voice on the D.C. Circuit, said he first met Jackson in 2013 and reviewed several of her opinions from when she was a judge on the U.S. district court.

"Although we did not always agree on the outcome the law required, I respected her diligent and careful approach, her deep understanding and her collegial manner, indispensable traits for success as a justice on the Supreme Court," he said.

Griffith called Jackson an "independent jurist who adjudicates based on the facts and the law and not as a partisan."

"Some think it noteworthy that a former judge appointed by a Republican president would enthusiastically endorse a nomination to the Supreme Court by a Democrat president," he said. "That reaction is a measure of the dangerous hyper-partisanship that has seeped into every nook and cranny of our nation's life and against which the framers of the constitution warned us. There should be nothing unusual about my support for a highly qualified nominee who has demonstrated through her life's work her commitment to the rule of law and an impartial judiciary."

Lisa Fairfax, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has known Jackson since college, lauded the judge's professional accomplishments as well as their long friendship.

"I know she is honored and humbled by the significance of this moment, not for what it means for her, but what it means for our amazing country, confirmation of the idea that America is a place in which all of us can feel a sense of belonging and all of us can reach our fullest potential," Fairfax said.

By Melissa Quinn

"Overwhelming joy": Booker hails historic nature of Jackson's nomination

An exuberant Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey used his time to hail the historic nature of Jackson's nomination to be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.

"This is not normal. It's never happened before. The Senate is poised right now to break another barrier. We are on the precipice of shattering another ceiling, another glass ceiling," Booker, a Democrat, said. "It's a sign that we as a country are continuing to rise to our collective cherished highest ideals."

Booker said he felt a sense of "overwhelming joy" at Jackson's selection, and recounted Jackson discussing her family and upbringing during their private meeting before the hearings.

"The more you spoke about your personal story, the more I know it is an American story, that folks from all backgrounds can relate to," he said.

"But there's something that really moved me. Behind you, in your family is your daughter Leila," he continued. "And when she was 11 years old — I love this — she wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to nominate her mother, you, to the United States Supreme Court. Wow! And in that letter, her recommendation put forward that you, Judge Jackson, would be 'a great Supreme Court justice.'"

Booker said he expects that "we're going to see a new generation of children talking about their mommas, and daring to write to the president of the United States of America that 'my mom should be on the Supreme Court.'"

"I want to tell your daughter right now, that that dream of hers is so close to being a reality," he said, his voice breaking.

By Stefan Becket

Hawley raises Jackson's sentencing decisions in child pornography cases

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican of Missouri, focused his opening remarks on seven child pornography cases Jackson oversaw while serving on the U.S. district court and in which she imposed sentences that were shorter than federal guidelines recommended and prosecutors sought.

Hawley, considered to be a possible 2024 presidential candidate, last week indicated he would focus on this aspect of Jackson's record, though the White House and Senate Democrats have refuted his characterizations. Fact-checks of his assertions by numerous news organizations have also found Hawley's claims lack context.

"What concerns me, and I've been very candid about this, is that in every case ... Judge Jackson handed down a lenient sentence that was below what federal guidelines recommended and below what federal prosecutors requested," he said.

The Missouri Republican said he is "not interested in trapping" Jackson and is "not interested in trying to play gotcha."

"I'm interested in her answers," he said.

By Melissa Quinn

Republicans show scars from Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing in opening remarks

As Republican members began delivering their opening statements, it quickly became evident that many are reeling from Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings in 2018, which were roiled after he was accused of sexual misconduct by several women. Kavanaugh vehemently denied the allegations and was ultimately confirmed.

Nearly all GOP senators have so far invoked Democrats' handling of Kavanaugh's confirmation and pledged they would treat Jackson differently than their colleagues did him.

"I am dedicated, as I always have been, to making sure that these hearings are respectful," Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican of Utah, said. "Engaging in the politics of personal destruction is not something we should ever aspire to. It is something that has occurred on this committee in the context of Supreme Court nominations."

Lee said that if senators focus on personal attacks, they "will be betraying our duty under the Constitution and to our constituents to make sure that we do our jobs fairly and properly." 

"When we're focused on things that we have no business doing, like bringing forward spurious, last-minute, uncorroborated accusations of a personal nature, we neglect the importance of talking about the jurisprudential role, the philosophy that guides individual jurists," he said.

Graham, too, vowed Jackson would not be "attacked" or "vilified," and recounted the attacks Republicans faced during Kavanaugh's process.

Grassley, meanwhile, remarked on the differences between how senators approached Kavanaugh and Jackson's hearings, accusing Democrats of turning the 2018 proceedings "into a spectacle based on alleged process fouls."

"On that front, we're off to a good start," he said. "Unlike the start of the Kavanaugh hearings, we didn't have repeated, choreographed interruptions of Chairman Durbin during his opening statement like Democrats interrupted me for more than an hour during my opening statement at the Kavanaugh hearing."

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz claimed it's "only one side of the aisle" that has smeared Supreme Court nominees. He said Jackson's hearings "will not be a political circus," harkening back to Kavanaugh's hearings and even Supreme Court hearings before that. 

"This will not be the kind of character smear that sadly our Democratic colleagues have gotten very good at," Cruz said. 

By Melissa Quinn

Cornyn says he's seen "the good, the bad and the ugly" in Senate confirmation hearings

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas congratulated Jackson on her nomination, and said the hearings will be thorough but civil.

"I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to the way the Senate conducts these proceedings, and so have the American people," the Texas senator said.

The framers were "very clear" the courts aren't "vested" with a "policymaking authority," but instead, courts hear cases and decide them.

Like Graham, Cornyn blasted what he called the "radical" views of some Democrats when it comes to the Supreme Court, and criticized Mr. Biden for not condemning court-packing.

By Kathryn Watson

Graham: Jackson is "sponsored by the most radical elements of the Democratic Party"

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of three Republicans who supported Jackson when she was nominated to the D.C. Circuit, lamented that his preferred pick for the Supreme Court, U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs, was passed over to replace Breyer on the high court. Still, he pledged Jackson will not be "vilified" or "attacked," referencing recent confirmation processes for Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

While Graham was viewed as a possible vote in support of Jackson's confirmation, he said the Senate is "facing a choice sponsored by the most radical elements of the Democratic Party when it comes to how to be a judge, who have the most radical view of what a judge should do, and you were their choice."

Graham has supported Supreme Court nominees selected by Democratic presidents, including Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, but accused progressive groups of mounting a campaign intended to dissuade Mr. Biden from selecting Childs, who he predicted would've received at least 60 votes for her confirmation.

"This is a new game for the Supreme Court and this game is particularly disturbing to me because there has been a wholesale effort from the Left to take down a nominee from my state, and I don't like it very much," he said.

Graham previewed that Jackson will be asked about her judicial philosophy, as well as her record sentencing sex offenders, among other issues.

By Melissa Quinn

Leahy: Jackson "writing a new page in the history of America"

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, refuted characterizations of Jackson by some of her critics, who have sought to tie the judge to liberal judicial organizations and criticized her for her past clients, and instead said her background is a "much-needed asset to the court." 

"You are writing a new page in the history of America, a good page," Leahy, a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said.

The Vermont Democrat called Jackson a "fair and impartial jurist with a fidelity to the law above all else. That's what Americans want to see in a Supreme Court justice."

Noting the ongoing war in Ukraine, Leahy said Jackson's nomination gives him optimism for the future.

"Despite all the darkness in the world and the political brinkmanship that has unfortunately become a hallmark of Congress in recent years, your nomination actually fills me with hope, hope for the court, hope for the role of law, hope for the country," he said.

By Melissa Quinn

Grassley promises an "exhaustive" review of Jackson's record and views

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the committee, opened his remarks by congratulating Jackson and thanking her for meeting with him.

Grassley said he's been encouraging his Republican colleagues to meet with her, and emphasized the need for a "thorough" and "respectful" process by the committee. 

"We will conduct a thorough, exhaustive examination of Judge Jackson's record and views," and won't try to turn it into a "spectacle," Grassley said, referencing the confirmation process for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. 

Grassley emphasized the committee will examine Jackson's record and whether she will judge cases by the Constitution as originally understood. He emphasized the problems he views with "living constitutionalism," and insisted judges should not legislate from the bench. 

"The American people should be able to read a law and know what it means," Grassley said. "They shouldn't have to ask how a federal judge who disagrees with the law could reinterpret the words on that page."

Grassley also criticized the role "dark money" groups have played in the judicial process, and expressed his frustration that Republicans didn't receive all the documents they requested in the vetting process. 

He also previewed a line of argument Republicans are likely to pursue in questioning Jackson's history as a public defender. 

"I've distinguished between two types of nominees who have worked on criminal cases. There are Bill of Rights attorneys who want to protect defendants' constitutional rights. Then there are what I've called criminal defense lawyers who disagree with our criminal laws and want to undermine laws that they have policy disagreements with," Grassley said. "That's an important difference."

By Kathryn Watson

First day of confirmation hearings for Jackson gets underway

Senate Confirmation Hearing For Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, March 21, 2022. Doug Mills/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

With a bang of the gavel from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, the confirmation hearings for Jackson began just after 11 a.m. 

Durbin began by offering well wishes to Justice Clarence Thomas, who the Supreme Court said was hospitalized Friday with flu-like symptoms and diagnosed with an infection.

"I speak for all the members of the committee in wishing him a speedy recovery," he said.

In his opening statement, Durbin noted the historic nature of Jackson's nomination, as she is the first Black woman to be nominated to the high court and, if confirmed, would be the first African-American woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

"Today's a proud day for America," he said, noting that while the Supreme Court has been filled with "many superb justices" who have made lasting contributions to the rule of law, "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.

Durbin sought to address likely lines of attack by Republican senators on the panel, such as Jackson's record on the U.S. Sentencing Commission and as a federal assistant public defender, and said she has numerous times before received a thorough review by the committee. 

"Look at the record. Your complete record has been scoured by this committee on four different occasions," he said.

Durbin ended his remarks by quoting President Abraham Lincoln.

"You, Judge Jackson, are one of Mr. Lincoln's living witnesses of an America that is unafraid of challenge, willing to risk change, confident of the basic goodness of our citizens, and you are living witness to the fact that in America, all is possible," he said.

By Melissa Quinn

Jackson says she's feeling "very good" ahead of hearing

Supreme Court Nomination
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson arrives for her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 21, 2022. Andrew Harnik / AP

After arriving on Capitol Hill for the start of her confirmation hearings, Jackson walked past a crowd of assembled reporters and, asked how she was feeling, said "very good."

She then entered a holding room with members of her family.

By Melissa Quinn

Biden and Harris expected to watch some of the hearings

President Biden and Vice President Harris are expected to watch at least some of this week's Supreme Court confirmation hearings, a White House official confirms to CBS News. In preparation for the proceedings, Jackson did moot court sessions with White House staff, according to a source familiar with the process. 

Doug Jones, the White House sherpa for the process and a former senator from Alabama, told CBS News last week Jackson has spent a lot of time preparing. 

"You know, when you go through this, you know that your entire life is going to be flashbacked and you're going to have to look," Jones said. "So she's going back through her opinions. There's a lot of them. She's going back through her college career, her law school career. She has done all the due diligence on herself that the senators should be doing and we expect them to do, and trying to talk about the questions, anything that comes up and during the vetting process that the White House has helped her with."

By Nikole Killion

Retired Judge Thomas Griffith, University of Pennsylvania law professor Lisa Fairfax to introduce Jackson

Jackson will be introduced before the Senate Judiciary Committee by retired Judge Thomas Griffith, who served on the D.C. Circuit, and Lisa Fairfax, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

Griffith was nominated to the federal appeals court by President George W. Bush in 2005 and was an influential conservative judge across his 15-year tenure. He retired from the federal bench in 2020. In February, after Mr. Biden announced Jackson as his nominee, he authored a letter to the panel calling her "immensely qualified" to serve on the Supreme Court and urged the Senate to confirm her.

Fairfax, meanwhile, met Jackson when they were freshman at Harvard University and went on to attend Harvard Law School together.

Getting to know SCOTUS nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson 05:24
By Melissa Quinn

The schedule for Jackson's confirmation hearings

Jackson's confirmation hearings will be four days. On Monday, committee members and Jackson will have 10 minutes each to make opening statements, and she will be introduced by Thomas Griffith, a former judge on the D.C. Circuit, and Lisa Fairfax, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who have five minute apiece to speak. Monday's session begins at 11 a.m.

There will then be two days of questions from senators to Jackson. On Tuesday, members will have 30 minutes each for questions, and on Wednesday, they'll each receive 20 minutes for a second round. Also on Wednesday, the committee will meet for a closed-door session to discuss Jackson's FBI background investigation, which is standard for Supreme Court nominees. Both Tuesday and Wednesday's sessions begin at 9 a.m.

On the final day, the committee will hear from the American Bar Association, which unanimously rated Jackson as "well qualified" to serve on the Supreme Court, and outside witnesses. Witnesses and senators will have five minutes each for statements and questions, respectively, also starting at 9 a.m.

By Melissa Quinn

How to watch Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation hearings

  • What: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her Supreme Court confirmation hearings
  • Date: Beginning Monday, March 21
  • Time: 11 a.m. ET
  • Location: U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
  • Online stream: Live on CBS News in the player above and on your mobile or streaming device
By Melissa Quinn
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