Star Tribune

By Hunter Woodall

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar questioned Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson on Tuesday about the right to vote, antitrust laws and journalists' role in democracy as the judge seeks confirmation as the first Black woman to serve on the nation's high court.

"You come before us with this incredible strength, legal acumen [and] grace under pressure that you have demonstrated today," Klobuchar told Jackson during a roughly half hour of questions and comments.

As this week's confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee continued, Jackson faced at times heated questioning Tuesday from Republicans on the committee on her judicial record and career.

Klobuchar, a Democratic member of the panel, asked what work can be done to maintain public confidence in the court. The judge made clear that "public confidence in the court is crucial" and pointed to her own family's history that she said showed her grandparents had a grade school education and her parents "were the first in their families to get to go to college."

"This nomination, against that backdrop, is significant to a lot of people," Jackson said. "And I hope that it will bring confidence. It will help inspire people to understand that our courts are like them. That our judges are like them."

Ahead of Klobuchar's questions, Jackson pushed back strongly against suggestions that she has given light sentences to child pornographers.

Could her rulings have endangered children? "As a mother and a judge," Jackson said, "nothing could be further from the truth."

She described looking into the eyes of defendants and emphasizing the lifelong effects on victims. She said it is "important to me to represent that the children's voices are represented."

Klobuchar referenced that topic during her own comments, saying she appreciated how Jackson had spoken earlier in the day.

"Would it surprise you at all that other judges, including a number of them that were supported by our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, have given out similar sentences in child pornography cases?" Klobuchar asked.

Jackson answered that it would not surprise her "because these cases are horrific and there's a lot of disparity because of the way the guidelines are operating in this particular area."

"But in every case that I handled involving these terrible crimes, I looked at the law and the facts. I made sure that the victims, the children's perspectives, were represented," Jackson said.

On Monday, Klobuchar praised Jackson during opening comments. Tuesday's hearing allowed Klobuchar to ask about topics the senator has focused on in Washington including voting and antitrust laws.

"What role do you think that Congressional intent should play in the court's interpretation of the antitrust laws?" Klobuchar asked.

Jackson answered in part that "courts are not policymakers and judges should not be importing their own policy preferences."

Jackson was announced as Democratic President Joe Biden's Supreme Court pick last month. Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate, but could approve Jackson's nomination on the strength of their party's control of the chamber alone, without GOP support.

If Jackson is confirmed, her nomination would not shift the current conservative control of the Supreme Court. Jackson also faced questions from other lawmakers about her career, judicial philosophy and the contentious debate about expanding the Supreme Court.

"My north star is the consideration of the proper role of a judge in our constitutional scheme," Jackson said when asked about the issue of changing the court's size. "And in my view, judges should not be speaking in to political issues and certainly not a nominee for a position on the Supreme Court."

Earlier in Tuesday's hearing, Jackson bristled at questions from GOP South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who voted for her confirmation as an appeals court judge last year but has openly expressed his frustration after Biden picked her over a South Carolina judge.

Graham asked her about her religion, and how often she goes to church, in emotional comments about what he said was unfair criticism of Justice Amy Coney Barrett's Catholicism ahead of her 2020 confirmation.

Jackson also defended work she did around 15 years ago as a public defender and later in private practice representing four Guantanamo Bay detainees. Jackson appeared taken aback during further questioning on her detainee work from Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who asked why she would have called former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former President George W. Bush "war criminals" in a legal filing.

"It seems so out of character for you," Cornyn said.

Jackson said she didn't remember "that particular reference," but that she would look into it. After a break, Democratic Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois noted — and Jackson confirmed — that she had filed petitions that made a variety of claims arguing for the release of Guantanamo detainees, including that the treatment of the detainees constituted torture and violated federal law.

She never referred to anyone as a war criminal, but she did argue that torture amounted to a war crime under the law and that the federal government, including Bush and Rumsfeld, was ultimately responsible.

While Jackson is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, she also worked as a U.S. District Court judge for the District of Columbia and is a former federal public defender. Another round of questions from lawmakers is expected Wednesday.

"If you're confirmed to the court, as I look back over, you're going to be the first former federal public defender on the court," Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said during his questioning. "You're going to be the first nominees since Justice Thurgood Marshall with a significant background in criminal defense. That's pretty impressive."