The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans boast they have not pulled a Kavanaugh. In fact, they’ve treated Jackson worse.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) asks questions of Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during Jackson's confirmation hearing on March 22. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Throughout her Senate confirmation hearings, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been a model of composure, which is made all the more impressive by the egregious behavior of some on the Republican side.

During the hearings, Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) have congratulated themselves for declining to treat Judge Jackson the way Democrats handled the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh. In fact, by the most relevant measures, Mr. Graham and a handful of other Judiciary Committee Republicans have handled themselves worse.

A woman credibly accused Mr. Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Democrats rightly asked the committee to investigate. After a superficial FBI review, Republicans pressed forward his nomination. In the end, it was Mr. Kavanaugh who behaved intemperately, personally attacking Democratic senators and revealing partisan instincts that raised questions about his commitment to impartiality.

By contrast, Republicans have smeared Judge Jackson based on obvious distortions of her record and the law. Mr. Graham and others painted her as a friend of child pornographers, despite the fact that her sentences in their cases reflect the judicial mainstream. Even conservative outlets had debunked these accusations before the hearings began. The more Judge Jackson argued for rationality in criminal sentencing — or attempted to, as Mr. Graham continually interrupted her — the more Mr. Graham ranted about the evils of child pornography, which Judge Jackson had already condemned repeatedly and her record plainly shows she takes seriously.

Mr. Graham also attacked Judge Jackson for her work defending Guantánamo Bay detainees, acknowledging that no one should judge her for representing unpopular defendants or advocating zealously for her clients — and then proceeding to do just that.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) used much of her time assailing those concerned about transgender people. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) attacked Judge Jackson for sitting on the board of Georgetown Day School, a D.C. private school, because he disapproves of its anti-racism curriculum, which Judge Jackson has never endorsed, let alone relied upon in a ruling. Similarly, several Republicans complained that outside pressure groups favored her nomination, even though she has no connection to them. These attacks by association underscored that they had little substance on which to criticize her.

Not all Judiciary Committee Republicans went off the rails. Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) questioned her respectfully on the originalist philosophy of judicial interpretation. Others posed questions about substantive due process, the doctrine under which the court has established rights not explicitly enumerated in the Constitution. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) congratulated the Democrats on running a fair hearing. Throughout, Judge Jackson gave thoughtful — if not particularly revelatory — responses.

Unfortunately, their colleagues’ antics distracted from their more productive questioning, and from what should have been the order of the day: recognizing the historic nomination of the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court and using the opportunity to probe thorny legal questions in good faith.

Neither side is blameless in the politicization of the confirmation process. But, particularly after they iced out then-Judge Merrick Garland in 2016, Republicans have done the most damage. The clownish performances by Mr. Graham and others continue them on that trajectory.