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Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is under a national microscope as the U.S. Senate confirmation process continues. So too is the Senate itself.
This week of confirmation proceedings in the Judiciary Committee has emphasized a few things. First and foremost, it has emphasized Jackson’s significant experience, sizable record and thoughtful approach to interpreting the Constitution and laws. She has been deliberate, patient and calm in an environment not always known for those qualities. Said another way, she has acted like a judge while surrounded by a bunch of politicians trying to score political points.
Jackson was asked repeatedly — especially by Republican senators — about her judicial philosophy and to compare herself to Supreme Court justices past and present (Democratic senators have asked and emphasized this of Republican nominees in the past, it is worth noting).
“I must admit that I don’t really have a justice that I have molded myself after or that I would. What I have is a record,” she told Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. “I have 570-plus cases in which I have employed the methodology that I described, and that shows people how I analyze cases.”
It turns out that the judge or justice she most resembles is, well, herself. She doesn’t strive to be someone else. That is a good thing. And she is no stranger to the Senate and to the senators who have already confirmed her multiple times to other roles, most recently in 2021 when three Republicans, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, joined Democrats in confirming her for the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Also on display this week was the historic nature of Jackson’s nomination. If confirmed, she would be both the first Black woman and first former public defender to serve on the court. Those alone are not reasons to confirm her, but these new perspectives are great strengths she would bring to the highest court in the land on top of her strong bedrock of legal experience and acumen.
The Judiciary Committee action also emphasized the need to reset the Supreme Court confirmation process, and to move away from the bipartisan acrimony that has characterized recent nominations.
We could not help but observe great irony in the words and actions of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina this week, who insisted that Jackson would be treated better than past nominees, only to repeatedly talk over her attempts to answer him during questioning Wednesday.
We’re not going to be able to fix the Supreme Court nomination process from Bangor, but we know it won’t be improved by senators preaching about respect and then refusing to give it.
Moving forward, the senators should take better care to ground the nomination process in evaluating the merits of the nominee — of their background, experience and approach — and not have it mired in past disputes between the political parties. Qualifications, not old quarrels, should drive this process. This should not be an exercise in finger pointing about the nominees and confirmations that came before, but about assessing the nominee before the Senate now.
There was a lot of talk this week about the legitimacy of the Supreme Court. Well, if both parties continue on a path of treating their nominees as heros and the other party’s nominees as extremists, that is a recipe for confidence in the federal judiciary eroding on both sides of the electorate. Call it mutually assured destruction for the legitimacy of the court.
A commitment to consistency and fairness across the Senate will be key to avoiding such a fate. Collins, for example, has demonstrated a consistent approach to Supreme Court nominations that we hope other senators will adopt, and that we hope Collins will extend by confirming Jackson to the Supreme Court.
Collins has supported nearly all of the Supreme Court nominees that have been before the Senate during her time in office, both Republicans and Democrats (we disagreed with her support for Justice Brett Kavanaugh). She rightly opposed Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, citing the timing of that nomination right before the 2020 election and the way that Senate Republicans handled President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016 for the same reason. Notably, when her Republican colleagues essentially ignored Garland’s nomination, she still met with him.
This is the type of consistency the Senate needs when considering Supreme Court nominees — one that emphasizes qualifications and experience over political grievances and opportunism. And it is the same approach that is needed from all senators as they assess Jackson’s nomination.
As Collins said after meeting with Jackson earlier this month, she has not agreed with all of the judge’s previous rulings. “But I felt that what I did get from her is that she takes a very thorough, careful approach in applying the law to the facts of the case,” Collins said. “And that is what I want to see in a judge.”
That is what everyone should want to see in a judge. And that is what America saw from Jackson. She should be confirmed with bipartisan support.