Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska meets with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, on March 3, 2022. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson spent part of her Thursday shaking hands with Republican Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse underneath a mounted bison head in his Capitol Hill office.
The somewhat unusual photo op came on the second day of Jackson meeting privately with senators on the Judiciary Committee ahead of her confirmation hearings later this month.
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The meetings are especially important as President Joe Biden and Democrats look for a bipartisan confirmation vote, though that might be an uphill climb.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Thursday morning that he enjoyed his “cordial” Wednesday meeting with Jackson but said the confirmation process for an associate justice must be “vigorous, exhaustive and painstaking.”
“She’s clearly a sharp lawyer with an impressive resume. But when it comes to the Supreme Court, a core qualification is judicial philosophy,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. “Our citizens need justices who treat all parties fairly, apply our laws and Constitution as written, and leave legislating to us here in Congress.”
McConnell added he looks forward to “gaining more clarity about Judge Jackson’s position during the vigorous and thorough Senate process to come.”
Jackson began meeting privately with senators on Wednesday, huddling with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, McConnell, Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin of Illinois and the panel’s top Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
She then met Thursday with Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Sasse.
Klobuchar joked at the beginning of their meeting that she wouldn’t ask Jackson about ice fishing, before touting the judge’s broad career experience, including her time working as a public defender.
“She has more experience as a judge than four of the people who are already on the Supreme Court — not that we’re keeping track,” Klobuchar said.
Lawmakers rarely talk about the meetings and nominees don’t answer questions about how they’re going. But the private chats, typically about 30 to 45 minutes long, give senators a chance to talk frankly about everything from a nominee’s childhood to judicial philosophy.
Like many of the Supreme Court nominees who have come before her, Jackson is no stranger to the Senate Judiciary Committee or its members.
She’s testified in front of the panel before, most recently last year when its members voted 13-9 to send her nomination to become the United States Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit to the Senate floor.
Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas voted with Democrats in the committee. And Jackson later got the backing of three GOP senators on the floor — Graham, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. Jackson was confirmed 53-44.
That hearing, in April 2021, is the most recent example of Jackson discussing her life and career.
In response to a question from California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein about whether former public defenders could be impartial judges, Jackson said she didn’t believe there would be any difference when it came to looking solely at the law in deciding cases.
“I wouldn’t see any distinction between people with prosecutorial backgrounds and defense backgrounds in their ability to stay true to their oath,” she said.
Jackson, who would be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court if confirmed, also addressed the role race played in her legal career in response to a question from Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn.
“I don’t think that race plays a role in the kind of judge that I have been and that I would be in the way that you asked that question,” Jackson said. “I am doing a certain thing when I get my cases; I’m looking at the arguments, the facts and the law. I’m methodically and intentionally setting aside personal views.”
Jackson will likely answer similar questions when the Judiciary Committee meets the week of March 21 for her Supreme Court confirmation hearing. The full U.S. Senate is expected to vote on her confirmation before Easter.
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