This time, McConnell holds few cards to stop Biden’s Supreme Court pick | Ketanji Brown Jackson

The photograph is a study in contrasts. At left, standing stiffly and sullenly, is Mitch McConnell, 80, the Republican Senate Minority Leader charged with misconduct in the face of court confirmations.

On the right, at a slightly awkward distance from McConnell, is Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, chosen by a Democratic president to be the first black woman on the United States Supreme Court, smiling warmly at the camera, her posture more relaxed than that of the senator. .

It was a milestone for Jackson this week when she began courting senators on both sides of the aisle ahead of nomination hearings that begin March 21 ahead of a vote in the full chamber.

For McConnell, who blocked President Barack Obama’s 2016 nominee Merrick Garland and then oversaw the confirmation of three conservative judges under President Donald Trump, there are few options this time around. Democrats can confirm Jackson without Republicans in a 50-50 split Senate where Vice President Kamala Harris holds the deciding vote.

Pundits predict Republicans will use the process to score political points — just like Democrats did in 2020 when they were powerless to block Amy Coney Barrett’s rise to court — but ultimately they won’t resort entirely to scorched earth tactics.

McConnell and his colleagues know that Jackson replaces fellow Liberal, retired Stephen Breyer, and therefore will not change the 6-3 Conservative majority on the field. They are also aware that opinion polls suggest a landslide victory for Republicans in November’s midterm elections and do not want to risk an overrun that could change that trajectory.

“It would be difficult for Republicans to stop him and a very strong and aggressive effort to block his confirmation could be perceived as racially motivated,” said Edward Fallone, Associate Professor at Marquette University Law School. “They are already in a good position for the midterm elections and the last thing they want to do is erode that by being accused of being racist right now. So they should just stay away.

But that won’t necessarily stop some Republicans from using racist dog whistles to piss off Trump’s base, as they have done before.

During a confirmation hearing last November, for example, Republican Senator John Kennedy told Kazakh-born Saule Omarova, a candidate for the post of Comptroller of the Currency: “I mean no disrespect to you: I don’t know whether to call you teacher or comrade.” She replied, “Senator, I am not a communist.

Fallone commented, “There will definitely be Republican loose cannons corn the question would be whether one of the more traditional Republicans makes a mistake and makes a comment perceived as racist.

Ketanji Brown Jackson is escorted to a meeting with a Republican senator by former senator Doug Jones. Photography: Rex/Shutterstock

There was a first glimpse of the potential for bigotry this week when, after Biden defended Jackson in his State of the Union address as “one of our country’s finest legal minds,” Tucker Carlson, a influential host of the conservative Fox News network, points out: “It might be time for Joe Biden to let us know what Ketanji Brown Jackson’s LSAT score was.”

The LSAT is the law school admission test. Critics noted that Carlson never made a similar request for the LSAT scores of Trump-appointed white judges.

Jackson has served since last year on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit after eight years as a federal district judge in Washington and previously worked as a Supreme Court clerk for Breyer. She is related by marriage to former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, now a member of the Fox News parent company board.

Democrats hope to confirm it before the start of the Easter holidays on April 11. She was accompanied this week by Doug Jones, civil rights lawyer and former senator from Alabama. After a 40-minute meeting, Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters, “She deserves the support across the aisle, and I hope a good number of Republicans vote for it.” her, given who she is. ”

But McConnell raised questions about Jackson’s brief record as an appellate judge, which includes only two opinions so far. “I am troubled by the combination of this thin appeal record and the intensity of Judge Jackson’s far-left, black-money fan club,” said the Kentucky senator.

It was a hint that the days of Supreme Court justices being confirmed with more than 90 bipartisan votes are long gone and most Republicans are likely to oppose Jackson, although she will receive support from the ‘Fraternal Order of Police and Former Democratic Appointed Judges. and Republicans.

Even so, few are predicting a bare-knuckle fight that will dominate national headlines like the confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, who has faced sexual misconduct allegations since he was a teenager.

Christopher Kang, co-founder and chief lawyer of the progressive pressure group Demand Justice, said: “They have nothing to make a fight out of it. At the end of the day, Republicans still control a supermajority of the Supreme Court, so the substantive issues aren’t there for them.

“There’s nothing in Judge Jackson’s case that they could turn into a rallying cry from their side either, so I think it’s going to be a somewhat muted battle. Or maybe, as we put it. sees too often with women of color who are appointed to the bench, unfortunately this can end up turning into racist and misogynistic attacks, but it will not be based on her record at all.

Ketanji Brown Jackson is embraced by Republican Senator John Kennedy who told a Kazakh-born judicial candidate:
Ketanji Brown Jackson is embraced by Republican Senator John Kennedy, who told a Kazakh-born judicial candidate, “I don’t know if I should call you professor or comrade.” Photography: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Rex/Shutterstock

Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham were the only Republicans to vote to confirm Jackson to the appeals court last year. While Collins appears willing to vote for Jackson again, Murkowski said her previous vote didn’t mean she would be in favor this time around. Graham had argued for a different candidate from his home state, Federal Judge Michelle Childs, and expressed disappointment that she was not Biden’s choice.

But, along with the right-wing media, some conservative outside advocacy organizations are attacking Jackson’s nomination.

The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) has launched a $2.5 million campaign trying to make the case that a ‘liberal black money network’ helped get Biden elected, pressured Breyer to retire and now seeks to replace him as ‘a rubber stamp for their political agenda unpopular and far left”.

Curt Levey, Chairman of the Conservative Justice Committee, said: ‘The strategy on our side is not really to try to stop him, but to try to make more important points. I think JCN is arguing black money groups pressuring Biden to pick the most progressive of the three picks [the other frontrunners were Childs and California supreme court justice Leondra Kruger].”

However, Levey’s own group does not consider it worth spending money on television commercials. “We can be effective on those larger points, but I don’t think there’s an amount of advertising you could run that would prevent it from being confirmed.

It’s a pragmatic view shared by John Cornyn, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who is due to meet with Jackson on March 10 and expects no surprises. He told reporters: “She is not new to us. Given that she won’t change the ideological balance on the pitch… we all have a pretty good idea of ​​what the outcome is likely to be.

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