Supreme Court confirmation hearing a screen test for potential 2024 GOP contenders on Judiciary Committee

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US senators should be asking Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson these questions

Former New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte says the days of unanimous support behind a SCOTUS nominee ‘are gone’ on ‘Sunday Night in America.’

With Democrats holding the Senate majority, the odds are extremely low that Republicans in the chamber can sidetrack President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee – Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson – from winning confirmation and making history as the first Black female on the nation’s highest court.

But that won’t stop some GOP senators with potential national ambitions who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee from taking advantage of the national spotlight afforded by Jackson’s confirmation hearing – which begins on Monday – as they take aim at the president’s nominee and potentially create some buzz-worthy moments that resonate among conservative voters.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas – who ran for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and who is considering another run – sits on the committee. So do Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas  Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who are all considered by pundits as potential White House hopefuls in the 2024 cycle. Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee – who some view as a possible Republican running mate in the next presidential race – also sits on the committee.z

U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) meets U.S. Supreme Court nominee and federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, in his office at the United States Capitol building in Washington, U.S., March 9, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein 
(REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

Cruz and Cotton graduated from Harvard Law School, like Jackson, and Hawley’s a Yale Law graduate. Cruz clerked for the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Hawley clerked for current Chief Justice John Roberts. Cotton clerked at the Fifth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Four of the five senators voted against Jackson last year when Biden nominated her for the bench on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, with Sasse not voting. And all five senators, like everyone else on the 22-member panel, will have 50 minutes over two days this week to question Jackson on any topic.

“Potential presidential contenders can use their time to take a few digs at the nominee to showcase their conservative credentials and opposition to left leaning judicial philosophy,” longtime GOP consultant Ryan Williams, a veteran of multiple Republican presidential campaigns, told Fox News.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks after President Joe Biden announced Jackson as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Cross Hall of the White House, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in Washington. Vice President Kamala Harris listens at right. 
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are expected to question Jackson about her positions on such issues as abortion and a push by some Democrats to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court, which is known by opponents as court packing. GOP lawmakers are also likely to scrutinize the nominee’s time on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, amid Republican claims she was overly lenient to child pornographers — a charge that the White House is branding a “debunked” and “desperate” conspiracy theory.

Hawley last week used a lengthy Twitter thread to accuse Jackson, who the president nominated to fill the seat of retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, of “a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes, both as a judge and as a policymaker.” 

Hawley laid out evidence for what he said was a consistent theme of Jackson both calling for more lenient treatment of some sex offenders and deviating from federal sentencing guidelines in favor of child sex offenders. In particular, he said that when serving on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Jackson “advocated for drastic change” in a report on mandatory minimums for those engaged in child pornography. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday called Hawley’s push “a last-ditch, eve-of-hearing desperation attack on her record on sentencing in sexual offense cases.” And White House spokesperson Andrew Bates on Saturday noted that the Sentencing Commission recommendations were from a bipartisan panel that included Trump-era judicial pick Judge Dabney Friedrich.

Jackson is a former federal public defender and last year, during her appeals court confirmation hearing, Cotton questioned her over her role as a public defender for Guantanamo Bay detainees. Cotton, speaking with reporters after meeting with Jackson last week, said it i possible “to both press a nominee on their views and be respectful and civil and cordial.”

This is far from the first time potential presidential contenders have questioned a Supreme Court nominee.

Four years ago, during the combustible confirmation hearing of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was nominated by then-President Donald Trump, the Democrats were in the minority in the Senate. 

Among the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee were three lawmakers who ended up running for their party’s 2020 nomination – Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey, and now-Vice President Kamala Harris, who at the time was a senator from California.

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