U.S. Supreme Court pick Jackson edges closer to confirmation

WASHINGTON, March 23 (Reuters) - Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden's U.S. Supreme Court nominee, on Thursday moved closer to securing Senate confirmation in the next two weeks, while experts from the nation's leading lawyers' group dismissed Republican claims that she was "soft on crime" including child pornography.

As the Senate Judiciary Committee completed the fourth and final day of Jackson's confirmation hearing, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said the chamber was "on track" to confirm the federal appellate judge to the lifetime job before its expected break for Easter on April 8.

There is no sign that the Republican attacks mounted this week are likely to derail Jackson's confirmation, with Biden's fellow Democrats narrowly controlling the Senate. With a simple majority needed for confirmation and the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties, she would get the job if Democrats remain united regardless of how the Republicans vote.

Following liberal Justice Stephen Breyer's January announcement of his plan to return, Biden nominated Jackson in February to become the first Black woman to serve on the nation's top judicial body. The committee is likely vote on April 4 on sending her nomination to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote.

Schumer described the Republican attacks as an attempt by "just a handful" of senators to "smear" Jackson with misleading and false accusations.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced that he will vote against confirmation. McConnell criticized Jackson in a speech on the Senate floor, accusing her of deflecting basic questions about her judicial philosophy and declining to answer legitimate questions about her own rulings.

McConnell also faulted Jackson after she refused to weigh in on proposals from the left to expand the number of justices to erase the court's current 6-3 conservative majority. Jackson said it is a matter for Congress to decide. Justice Amy Coney Barrett took a similar stance in her 2020 confirmation hearing.

"Judge Jackson refuses to reject the fringe position that Democrats should try to pack the Supreme Court," McConnell said.

It is possible Jackson could attract a small number of Republican votes, most likely Senator Lisa Murkowski and Senator Susan Collins.

Jackson concluded two days of marathon testimony on Wednesday night, facing repeated attacks by Republicans who accused her of being lenient in her previous role as a federal trial court judge in sentencing child pornography offenders.

"Some of the attacks on this judge were unfair, unrelenting and beneath the dignity of the United States Senate," said Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, the committee's chairman.

"My lasting impression," Durbin added, "is of a judge who sat there through it all, head held high, with dignity and determination and strength."

The most hostile questioning came from Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, Marsha Blackburn and Lindsey Graham.

Jackson's confirmation would not change the court's ideological balance but would let Biden freshen its liberal bloc with a 51-year-old jurist young enough to serve for decades.


The committee on Thursday heard from outside witnesses testifying about Jackson's record and qualifications, including members of the American Bar Association, which has evaluated Jackson as "well qualified" - its highest rating - for the job.

Durbin asked retired federal judge Ann Claire Williams, one of the bar association witnesses, whether in the group's examination of Jackson's record any evidence emerged that she was "soft on crime."

"None whatsoever," Williams said.

Williams said that in interviews with 250 lawyers and judges who had first-hand knowledge of Jackson's career, none of them brought up issues involving her sentencing of child pornography defendants.

Another bar association witness, trial attorney Joseph Drayton, said he had specifically talked to prosecutors and defense lawyers about the issue, adding: "None of them felt that she demonstrated bias in any way."

The bar association witnesses were members of its Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

Jackson since last year has served as a federal appeals court judge after eight years as a federal district judge.

If confirmed, Jackson would be the 116th justice to serve on the high court, the sixth woman and the third Black person. With Jackson on the bench, the court for the first time would have four women and two Black justices.

Reporting by Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Editing by Will Dunham

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Thomson Reuters

Washington-based reporter covering legal affairs with a focus on the U.S. Supreme Court, a Pulitzer Prize winner for team project on how the defense of qualified immunity protects police officers accused of excessive force.