Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearings Put Democrat Crime Record in GOP Crosshairs

Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson are set to begin this week, which could bring the Democratic Party's crime policies under scrutiny by the GOP.

The debate over crime policies emerged as a key political issue in the past few years. Democrats have widely embraced criminal justice reform including changes to sentencing and bail laws arguing that the reforms would help mend systemic racism and create a more fair system. Republicans, however, have accused Democrats of being "soft on crime" amid various crime spikes throughout the country.

Judge Jackson—who if confirmed, would be the first Black woman to serve on the nation's highest court—has already found herself at the center of the debate. During her confirmation hearings, Republicans could press her on a number of issues including her representation of Guantanamo Bay detainees and her role as a public defender.

With several potential 2024 presidential candidates sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee, some GOP senators could use the hearings to draw attention to the Democrats' policies on crime.

Judge Jackson currently serves as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, but previously worked as a public defender and as the vice chair of the United States Sentencing Committee.

Democrats have held up her previous work as a public defender as evidence she would bring a new perspective to the Supreme Court, although some Republicans aren't convinced.

"Her service as a criminal defense lawyer and on the U.S. sentencing commission give her special empathy for convicted criminals," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said during a speech on the Senate floor Thursday. "Her supporters look at her résumé and deduce a special empathy for criminals. I guess that means that government prosecutors and innocent crime victims start each trial at a disadvantage."

McConnell, however, said on Sunday he has not yet decided whether or not he will vote to confirm her.

Another attack came from Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, who is considered to be a potential 2024 presidential candidate.

He accused Judge Jackson of being soft on child sex offenders in a Twitter thread, writing: "Judge Jackson has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes, both as a judge and as a policymaker. She's been advocating for it since law school."

Several fact-checkers including CNN and The Washington Post have deemed his tweet to be misleading.

Hawley has not voted for a single Biden judicial nominee, making Judge Jackson unlikely to win his support. However, as a member of the judiciary committee, he will be one of the GOP senators tasked with questioning her over the coming days and could press her on parts of her record he views as being too lenient.

Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, another Republican who sits on the committee, also said she will ask questions about her record.

"When she was at Harvard, she wrote a paper about how she thought the criminal justice system was too harsh on criminals. So I will go into questions on that with her," she told the New Hampshire Journal.

Democrats, meanwhile, have already come to Judge Jackson's defense.

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, dismissed Hawley's tweet as "inaccurate and unfair" during an appearance on ABC News Sunday.

"There's no truth to what he says," the Illinois senator said. "And he's part of the fringe within the Republican Party. This was a man who was fist-bumping the murderous mob that descended on the Capitol on January 6th of the last year. He doesn't have the credibility he thinks he does."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has also defended Judge Jackson against accusations that were made against her.

"In the vast majority of cases involving child sex crimes broadly, the sentences Judge Jackson imposed were consistent with or above what the government or U.S. probation recommended," she said during a press briefing on Friday.

Judge Jackson does not need a single Republican vote to be confirmed to the Supreme Court as long as every Democratic senator votes to confirm her. Democrats and Republicans each hold 50 Senate seats, with Vice President Kamala Harris being the tie-breaking vote. However, the dialogue around crime policy as it relates to her confirmation could shape the 2022 midterm elections as well as the 2024 presidential election.

Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings crime policy
Confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson, seen above on March 17, could bring the Democratic Party’s record on crime under GOP scrutiny. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images