Talking Points

GOP knives extra sharp ahead of Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmation hearings

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) took the gloves off ahead of the confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden's nominee for the Supreme Court. After weeks of vague expressions of concerns about her judicial philosophy and "dark money" groups, Hawley slammed Jackson for being soft on people who prey on children. 

Hawley described it as a consistent part of Jackson's record as a judge in a Wednesday evening Twitter storm. "As far back as her time in law school, Judge Jackson has questioned making convicts register as sex offenders — saying it leads to 'stigmatization and ostracism.' She's suggested public policy is driven by a 'climate of fear, hatred & revenge' against sex offenders," he said.

The next day, the Republican National Committee blasted out an email on Jackson with the subject line, "Sympathetic to terrorists AND pedophiles?" The missive added an article about Jackson's work on behalf of a Guantanamo Bay detainee when she was a public defender to Hawley's critique. "What other criminals is Ketanji Brown Jackson an advocate for?" the message concludes.

If this becomes a bigger part of the Republican messaging against Jackson — which remains to be seen — it would mark a significant escalation of their approach to confirmation fights. GOP senators pressed Elena Kagan on her judicial experience (or lack thereof). Sonia Sotomayor faced questions about her "wise Latina" speech and the role emotion would play in her rulings. But even that is pretty mild compared to a soft-on-pedophiles line of attack. When Republicans blocked Merrick Garland, they didn't hold hearings to talk about him at all.  

Hawley's line of questioning could encourage a more scorched earth approach among ambitious Republicans, in contrast with leadership's preferences. "I think she's intelligent, very likely progressive. [The] Senate Republican minority intends to treat the nominee respectfully. I'm not at all interested, for example, in what someone may have written in her high school yearbook," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said of Jackson.

Some Republicans might have been inclined to give the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court a pass. Jackson will not affect the court's balance, unlike replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia with Garland or Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Conservatives would still on most questions have a 6-3 advantage. 

But Hawley was pressing for Republicans to take a harder line on nominees even than under former President Donald Trump. Conservatives have long expressed disappointment with the rulings of some GOP-appointed justices, while Democratic appointees have reliably joined the liberal bloc.

If Hawley prevails here, it will make the "wise Latina" episode look like a slumber party.