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First Black woman eyed for US Supreme Court vows to uphold democracy

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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is the first Black woman tapped for a seat on the court./AFP
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Mar 22, 2022 - 12:00 PM

WASHINGTON — US Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson vowed Monday to defend the “grand experiment of American democracy” as she launched a historic bid to be the first Black woman on the nation’s highest judicial bench.

President Joe Biden’s pick made the pledge as she was formally introduced at the start of televised hearings that will go on to include two days of questioning and a final day of testimony from outside witnesses.

“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,” the 51-year-old former public defender told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A federal judge with almost a decade of experience on lower courts, Jackson previously served as a law clerk to Stephen Breyer, the retiring liberal justice she is being nominated to replace.

She is the first Black woman tapped for a seat on the court and would also be the only nominee of a Democratic president to be confirmed since Elena Kagan in 2010.

She assured senators at the start of what can be a highly politically partisan process in the United States that she took her duty to be independent “very seriously” and always applied the law “without fear or favor.”

While the historic significance of Jackson’s nomination is enormous, the prospects for major drama are low, with a green light from the Senate all but assured and the 6-3 conservative balance of the court not in play.

As the final word on all civil and criminal legal disputes, as well as guardian and interpreter of the Constitution, the Supreme Court seeks to ensure equal justice under the law.

No ‘character assassination’ 

It is also a check on the power wielded by the other branches of government and the arbiter of disputes covering all aspects of American life, from religious liberty and voting rights to gun ownership and abortion access.

The committee is meeting through Thursday to consider Jackson’s nomination, which is being conducted by a 50-50 chamber controlled by Democrats, meaning there is no room for missteps.

No red flags have been raised about Jackson’s record that would imperil her prospects, and Republicans have pledged to avoid the kind of “character assassination” they argue Democrats staged before the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

But conservatives have been signaling that they intend to go after her record as a public defender and raise rulings they say were too lenient in a bid to frame Biden — via his nominee — as soft on crime ahead of November’s midterm elections.

Staunch right-winger Josh Hawley has already suggested that Jackson has a pattern of “letting child porn offenders off the hook” and added Monday that he intended to have a “very candid” conversation with her about her sentencing history.

‘Not going to fly’ 

From the beginning, both sides were on the defensive, with the committee’s Democratic chairman Dick Durbin seeking to discredit the claim that Jackson isn’t tough enough and praising her as a “champion for the rule of law.”

Republicans, including former committee chairmen Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, defended their side against potential accusations that opposition to Jackson is racist or sexist.

“We’re all racist if we ask hard questions? It’s not going to fly with us,” Graham said.

In a marked contrast to the solemn atmosphere inside the hearing, supporters of Jackson staged a jubilant rally outside the nearby Supreme Court, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the judge’s image and waving placards.

Gospel choirs sang and dancers danced as activists chanted Jackson’s name at the demonstration staged by the National Women’s Law Center Action Fund, She Will Rise and the Black Women’s Roundtable.

All 22 senators on the judiciary committee will question Jackson on Tuesday and Wednesday, while Thursday’s hearing includes outside witnesses. Democratic leaders plan a final Senate vote by early April.

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