Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson gets a kiss from her husband Dr. Patrick Jackson, at the conclusion of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
  • Supreme Court Confirmation Process
  • Supreme Court Nomination
  • Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn
  • Ketanji Brown Jackson
  • Supreme Court Nomination
  • Supreme Court Nomination
  • APTOPIX Supreme Court Nomination
  • Ketanji Brown Jackson, Dick Durbin

WASHINGTON | Legal experts and interest groups are weighing in on Ketanji Brown Jackson as the Senate Judiciary Committee began a fourth day of hearings on her historic nomination to become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.

Jackson faced down a barrage of Republican questioning over two days about her sentencing of criminal defendants, her bid to join the Supreme Court veering from lofty constitutional questions to attacks on her motivations on the bench.

On Thursday, the last day of hearings, interest groups including the American Bar Association and civil rights organizations are testifying about Jackson’s suitability for the court. Witnesses chosen by Republican senators were to speak. As is customary, the nominee was not in attendance at this stage of the hearings.

The lawyers’ group, which evaluates judicial nominees, last week gave Jackson its highest rating, unanimously “well qualified.”

Ann Claire Williams, chair of the ABA’s committee that makes recommendations on federal judges, said everyone the committee interviewed gave Jackson the highest praise. Members spoke to more than 250 judges and lawyers about Jackson.

“The question we kept asking ourselves: How does one human being do so much so extraordinary well?” Williams said.

Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, the Senate committee chairman, noted that some Republican senators argued that Jackson was out of the mainstream when it comes to sentencing. Durbin asked the ABA whether such a concern would have surfaced in their interviews with the judges and lawyers who worked with her.

“It never came up in any of these interviews,” Williams said.

Joseph Drayton, another member of the ABA committee, said Jackson’s reputation is “stellar.”

On Wednesday, her final day of Senate questioning, Jackson declared she would rule “without any agendas” and she rejected Republican efforts to paint her as soft on crime in her decade on the federal bench.

The GOP criticism was met by effusive praise from Democrats, and by reflections on the historic nature of her nomination. The most riveting came from New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who used his time not to ask questions but to tearfully speak and draw tears from Jackson as well.

Booker, who is Black, said that he sees “my ancestors and yours” when he looks at her. “I know what it’s taken for you to sit here in this seat,” he said. “You have earned this spot.”

Jackson, whose family was seated behind her, was silent as Booker talked, but tears rolled down her face.

Jackson was in tears a second time after similar praise from Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., and she responded that she hopes to be an inspiration because “I love this country, because I love the law.”

Though her approval seems all but sure — Democrats are aiming for a vote before Easter — Republicans kept trying to chip away at her record.

In more than 22 hours of hearings, GOP senators aggressively questioned Jackson on the sentences she has handed down to child pornography offenders in her nine years as a federal judge, her legal advocacy on behalf of suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, her thoughts on critical race theory and her religious views.

The focus on sentencing was part of a larger effort by the committee’s Republicans — several of whom are potential presidential candidates — to characterize Jackson’s record, and her judicial philosophy, as too empathetic and soft on criminals who commit the worst offenses. It was also reflective of an emerging emphasis on crime in GOP midterm election campaigns.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told Jackson she seemed like “a very kind person” — but “there’s at least a level of empathy that enters into your treatment of a defendant that some could view as maybe beyond what some of us would be comfortable with, with respect to administering justice.”

The sustained focus on her record suggested that, contrary to Democratic hopes, Jackson’s confirmation vote in the full Senate is unlikely to garner much, if any, Republican support. Still, several Republicans acknowledged that she is likely to be on the court. Democrats can confirm her without any bipartisan support in the 50-50 Senate as Vice President Kamala Harris can cast the tiebreaking vote.

Jackson said the Republicans were mischaracterizing her decisions. Asked if her rulings were endangering children, she told the committee on Tuesday, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

She said she bases sentences on many factors, not just federal guidelines. Sentencing is not a “numbers game,” she said, noting that there are no mandatory sentences for sex offenders and that there has been significant debate on the subject.

Some of the cases have given her nightmares, she said, and were “among the worst that I have seen.”

She reminded the committee that her brother and two uncles served as police officers, and that “crime and the effect on the community, and the need for law enforcement — those are not abstract concepts or political slogans to me.”

Durbin began Thursday’s hearing by thanking most Republicans on the committee, but he also said “some of the attacks on the judge were unfair, unrelenting and beneath the dignity of the United States Senate.”

President Joe Biden chose Jackson in February, fulfilling a campaign pledge to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. She would take the seat of Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced in January that he would retire this summer after 28 years.

Jackson would be the third Black justice, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and the sixth woman. Her confirmation would maintain the current 6-3 conservative majority on the court. She would also be the first former public defender on the court, and the first justice with experience representing indigent criminal defendants since Marshall.

Some of the most combative rounds of questioning during the hearings came from the potential GOP presidential candidates, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. All hit on issues that are popular with the GOP base, including attacks on critical race theory, the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions. Jackson said the idea doesn’t come up in her work as a judge, and it “wouldn’t be something I would rely on” if confirmed.

Associated Press writers Mark Sherman, Jessica Gresko, Lisa Mascaro, Darlene Superville and Colleen Long in Washington and Aaron Morrison in New York contributed to this report.