Column: It’s Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court moment, but the GOP wants to whine about the past

Ketanji Brown Jackson, viewed from the back, is sworn in among photographers and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, is sworn in Monday at a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.

By the second day of Senate hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, it became apparent that Republicans just don’t have the ammunition necessary to torpedo her chances.

Nominated by President Biden to fulfill his campaign pledge to place a Black woman on the high court, Jackson is supremely qualified.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, she has served as a federal District Court judge and currently sits on the federal Court of Appeals bench. She has been vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which develops guidelines for federal courts; has worked as a federal public defender; and clerked for Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the very judge she has been nominated to replace.


“In the world of law,” Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky recently wrote for The Times, “credentials don’t get better than hers.”

Republicans can’t tarnish such a sterling candidate, but they can score political points with their base and Fox News, whose own Tucker Carlson demanded to see Jackson’s LSAT scores to prove she’s qualified for the job. As if, Tucker!

Conservatives had first tried to undermine Jackson with a swipe at what they derided as Biden’s “identity politics.”

How dare Biden callously kill the aspirations of so many well-qualified white men? Hold on while I call the whaaaambulance!

Never mind that a Black woman has never served on the Supreme Court. Neither, for that matter, has anyone of Asian, Native American or Pacific Islander descent.

And never mind that the same incensed conservatives did not utter a peep when candidate Donald Trump pledged to nominate justices who would overturn Roe vs. Wade — then followed through with the successful nominations of Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, justices whose shocking failure to intervene in a clearly unconstitutional Texas law banning abortions after six weeks demonstrates that all three are more than prepared to crush 50 years of legal precedent that has allowed women to control their reproductive lives.


In the absence of accusations that Jackson has sexually harassed a subordinate or drunkenly assaulted a schoolmate in high school, what could conservatives possibly carp about?

Their own partisan grievances, apparently.

“You’re the beneficiary of Republican nominees having their lives turned upside down,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told Jackson. “Most of us couldn’t go back to our offices during Kavanaugh without getting spit on.”

I can’t find any reference to Graham or any other Republican being spit on. The only person who seemed to be spitting during the Kavanaugh hearings was the overwrought Graham himself.

Just before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Jackson’s nomination began, Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley vowed, “We’re not going to have a comedy and a tragedy like the Democrats demonstrated to Kavanaugh. ... We’re not going to get down in the gutter like they did with Kavanaugh.”

“No one is going to inquire into your teenage dating habits,” Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz told Jackson on Monday. “No one is going to ask you, with mock severity, ‘Do you like beer?’” This was an inappropriately lighthearted reference to a serious allegation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford.

Cruz must have forgotten that it was a belligerent Kavanaugh himself who asked a senator about beer, not the other way around: “I like beer,” Kavanaugh told Democratic Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. “Do you like beer, Senator, or not? What do you like to drink? Senator, what do you like to drink?”


And it’s absurd to think that defending detainees held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay is somehow un-American, as Graham implied Tuesday morning.

Graham was so worked up, verging on hysterical once again, that he stomped out of the room after shrieking that he was fine with Guantanamo detainees dying in custody, without ever receiving due process, if it prevented them from returning to the battlefield.

Later, in response to cleanup questioning by Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Jackson explained that public defenders don’t get to pick and choose their clients, as if that is something that really needs to be explained to Graham, who once worked as a defense attorney and prosecutor in the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps. “They have to represent whoever comes in, and it’s a service,” she said. “That’s what you do as a federal public defender. You are standing up for the constitutional value of representation.”

Supreme Court histrionics are now the province of conservative men. Men like Graham, Kavanaugh and Justice Clarence Thomas can wig out, weep, gnash their teeth or cry racism.

Women, as Jackson demonstrated, must always remain composed and collected, lest their credibility be diminished by any display of emotion.

We saw it as far back as 1991, when law professor Anita Hill evenly accused then-nominee Thomas of sexually harassing her when she worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Thomas responded with what seemed like a calculated accusation: By allowing Hill to testify, the Senate was conducting a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.”


We saw this double standard again in 2018, when Blasey Ford testified almost academically about being scared for her life when, as she alleged, a teenage Kavanaugh pinned her down on a bed at a party.

Both Kavanaugh and Graham, taking a page from the Thomas playbook, responded with red-faced histrionics.

To Jackson’s credit — and to no one’s surprise — she kept her cool as Republicans around her melted down or tried to provoke her with misleading attacks.

In the end, she will surely be confirmed. She will become — no, she already is — an important American figure, on the verge of making the best kind of history, in her own calm and measured way.