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Opinion Why the GOP should avoid a battle over Judge Jackson

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks after President Biden during an announcement ceremony at the White House on Feb. 25. (Al Drago/Bloomberg News)
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Even before President Biden formally announced his appointment of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on Friday, the Republican assault began.

After congratulating Jackson, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) got right to the politics. “I also understand Judge Jackson was the favored choice of far-left dark money groups,” he said in a statement, “that have spent years attacking the legitimacy and structure of the Court itself.”

Well. As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) noted, it was right-wing dark-money groups that “hatched and executed” the strategy that “packed the court under President [Donald] Trump.” Think of McConnell’s argument as a form of transference.

The Post's View: Ketanji Brown Jackson's nomination to the Supreme Court is historic and sound

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted that Jackson’s nomination “means the radical Left has won President Biden over yet again.”

Interesting. Does this mean that Graham was part of “the radical Left” when he was one of three Republican senators — the others were Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) — who voted to confirm Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last year?

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For good measure, Graham added: “The Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court continues to run unabated.”

Yes, Jackson was a Harvard undergrad and graduated from Harvard Law School. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has the same academic pedigree. Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan and Neil M. Gorsuch are also Harvard Law grads. And Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Sonia Sotomayor and Brett M. Kavanaugh got degrees from Yale Law School.

Sure, I get how people might get sick of Ivy Leaguers. But since he joined the Senate in 2003, Graham has voted for every Ivy League Supreme Court nominee put before him. Why might Jackson suddenly be a problem?

Let’s get to the basic issue: Jackson is an excellent choice. She would, as everyone with a passing interest in the news knows, be the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s been astonishing (but, alas, not surprising) that many who had no problem with Ronald Reagan promising to appoint a woman to the court professed shock at Biden’s pledge to name a Black woman.

Eugene Robinson: Republicans' animus toward Biden's Supreme Court pledge shows they’re no longer veiling their racism

Republicans who swooned over the qualities of Trump nominees would be hard-pressed to explain why Jackson doesn’t more than equal them — not just in her education but also in experience, which includes clerking for the retiring Breyer, who is no one’s idea of a radical. She is, as Biden said on Friday, “worthy of Justice Breyer’s legacy of excellence and decency.”

GOP senators told Democrats to judge Trump’s nominees primarily by their qualifications. Wouldn’t it be lovely if they followed their own advice in weighing Jackson’s readiness?

And, as my colleague Ruth Marcus pointed out, Jackson has one credential that has been missing from the court: She “served in the trenches of the criminal justice system” as a public defender. She has looked at the process from the bottom up.

Ruth Marcus: Ketanji Brown Jackson will bring perspective to a court too often removed from real life

Alas, Republicans are signaling that they will try to turn a virtue into a nasty partisan talking point. Thus did McConnell’s statement say the issues he hoped to highlight during her confirmation debate included “skyrocketing violent crime and open borders.” Jackson shrewdly met this impending campaign head-on at Friday’s ceremony by speaking with pride about members of her family who have served in law enforcement.

If Republicans wage a full-scale campaign against this daughter of public school teachers, they will run a great risk — and not just because Jackson showed on Friday how appealing she and her personal story are. The more partisan they are, the more they will underscore their own partisanship in stacking the court with conservatives, and how partisan the 6-to-3 majority they created has become. If Republicans choose to play midterm politics with Jackson to ignite their base, they will only make it easier for Democrats to do the same.

It’s unfortunate that the conventions of the confirmation process are likely to get in the way of the debate we need to have over the damage a right-wing Supreme Court is doing to our country. Jackson will be advised, sensibly, to be as careful as possible in her comments, since playing down philosophical matters is the accepted strategy for winning over moderate senators. Her remarks Friday on God, family and country showed how difficult she will make it for the right to paint her as anything but mainstream.

But if philosophical lines are drawn, Jackson has the gifts to make clear that her vision to the law is truer to the Constitution’s promise of equal justice than the right-wing’s crabbed and ideological approach. What Republicans fear most is not that she won’t be a great justice, but that she will be.