The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans’ attempt to demonize Ketanji Brown Jackson isn’t going well

President Biden, right, shakes hands with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, his nominee to serve as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, after he delivers remarks in D.C. on Feb. 25. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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The Republican playbook for opposing the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been a familiar one for women of color — paint her as radical, extreme, alien and a threat to American values. Fortunately, the effort is already collapsing thanks to Jackson’s explanation of her own values and entirely unexpected praise from conservative legal gurus.

At her announcement event, Jackson effectively took the wind out the sails of this “othering” campaign. “I must begin these very brief remarks by thanking God for delivering me to this point in my professional journey,” she declared. “My life has been blessed beyond measure, and I do know that one can only come this far by faith. Among my many blessings — and, indeed, the very first — is the fact that I was born in this great country.” She added, “The United States of America is the greatest beacon of hope and democracy the world has ever known.”

Frankly, Jackson sounds a lot more in tune with American values than the Republicans who excuse a violent insurrection as “legitimate political discourse” and shed tears when symbols of the traitorous Confederacy get removed.

President Biden nominated D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on Feb. 25. Here's what you need to know. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

But if you do not take Jackson’s own words and record as evidence of her dedication to the rule of law and aversion to partisan ideology, you might listen to no less than four prominent Republican legal experts who have endorsed her.

The GOP lawyer for former White House legal counsel Donald McGahn came out in favor of her confirmation. CNN reported on Tuesday: “Lawyer William Burck … said of Jackson that ‘no serious person can question her qualifications to the court and to my mind her judicial philosophy is well within the mainstream.’ ”

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This followed the endorsements of two former conservative judges. Former federal judge J. Michael Luttig, a mentor to many conservative lawyers, put out a laudatory statement. “Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is eminently qualified to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Indeed, she is as highly credentialed and experienced in the law as any nominee in history, having graduated from the Harvard Law School with honors, clerked at the Supreme Court, and served as a Federal Judge for almost a decade,” he said in a written statement. Urging senators of both parties to confirm her, Luttig argued, “Republicans, in particular, should vote to confirm Judge Jackson. Republicans prematurely judged President Biden’s nominee when the President first announced he would nominate a black woman to the vacancy created by Justice Breyer’s retirement.” And he added, “The President knew at the time that there were any number of highly qualified black women on the lower federal courts from among whom he could choose — including Judge Jackson — and Republicans should have known that the President would nominate one of those supremely qualified black women to succeed Justice Breyer.”

In this era of hyperpartisan confirmation fights, stamps of approval from such a different ideological camp are extraordinary. It would be as if liberal justice William J. Brennan Jr., after his retirement, had endorsed the right-wing Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court.

Luttig is not the only former conservative judge to favor Jackson’s confirmation. Retired D.C. Circuit judge Thomas B. Griffith, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote the Senate Judiciary chairman and ranking member, “I write to you today to express my strong support for President Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. … Judge Jackson has a demonstrated record of excellence, and I believe, based upon her work as a trial judge when I served on the Court of Appeals, that she will adjudicate based on the facts and the law and not as a partisan.” He added, “Presidents should be entitled to their nominees provided certain levels of competence and qualifications are met; Judge Jackson clearly exceeds that bar.”

None of this will stop the likes of Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) or Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) from smearing Jackson as a legal extremist and labeling her a beneficiary of affirmative action. (Cruz pronounced Biden’s decision to pick the first African American woman for the high court “offensive”; perhaps to him and his rabid followers that’s true.) Their enmity for an extraordinarily qualified woman of color is a reflection of their own political ambition and never-ending thirst for the approval of a MAGA base that is driven by white grievance.

It’s they and their extreme colleagues who fail to embrace the nation’s creed (“All men are created equal”). They might just find themselves in over their heads if they attempt to go after one of the best-qualified nominees in recent memory, someone respected by actual legal experts.

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