Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson will begin on March 21, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced Wednesday, a timetable that could put President Biden’s first pick for the nation’s most influential court on track to be confirmed by mid-April.
Democrats want to afford Jackson, who would be the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court, a comprehensive process — but they also want to do it expeditiously as they navigate the narrowest of Senate majorities. The roughly six-week time frame sketched out by Democratic leaders is fair, they said, because it was still longer than the length of time it took Republicans to confirm now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett in October 2020 — a process that Democrats said was a sham.
“I want this to be fair, timely and professional,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said after meeting with Jackson on Wednesday afternoon. “I am going to beseech my colleagues on both sides to keep this at a high level of discourse, because we are considering issues of great constitutional moment.”
Jackson sat down Wednesday morning with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and met later in the day with Durbin and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
Her hearings are set to follow the typical four-day schedule for a Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
The first day, March 21, will be reserved for opening statements from senators and from Jackson. Members of the committee will spend the next two days, March 22 and 23, questioning Jackson, while the final day, March 24, will include testimony from the American Bar Association and outside witnesses who will speak about Jackson personally and her judicial philosophy. Jackson’s questioning is certain to be the most scrutinized part of the proceeding.
A closed-door session to discuss her FBI background investigation will be held after the second day of questioning concludes on March 23.
Durbin has sought to keep open lines of communication with Republicans, and it was unclear, at least initially, whether GOP senators would object to holding hearings in just under three weeks.
Grassley stressed that the “important thing” is for senators to have enough time to properly vet Jackson and her record, although other Republicans acknowledged that she had been through the judicial confirmation process just last year, for her appeals court seat, and was a known entity to the committee.
Any Republican senator who wants to meet personally with Jackson should get the chance to do so, Grassley added.
“I don’t know what time that takes, because I don’t know how many people want to do that,” he said.
It’s likely Jackson will meet with every member of the Judiciary Committee, which is made up of 11 senators from each party, mirroring the composition of the broader Senate, which is divided 50-50 between the parties. Vice President Harris is empowered to break any ties, giving Democrats a narrow advantage.
Much of the public attention will zero in on a handful of Republican senators who could give the first Black female justice a bipartisan confirmation vote. Durbin said he believed the votes of about a half-dozen GOP senators were in play — a higher number than the three who voted to confirm her to the D.C. Circuit last year.
Republicans Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) supported Jackson in that vote, joining all 50 Democrats and independents. But a small handful of other Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), have indicated they are also mulling whether to support her, even if they opposed her elevation to the D.C. Circuit last June.
On the other hand, Graham — who has often helped Biden’s judicial candidates advance in the Senate — has signaled he may not be on board with Jackson’s nomination this time around, after he backed another finalist, U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs of South Carolina.
After suggesting earlier this week he might not even meet with Jackson, Graham — a senior member of the Judiciary Committee — said Wednesday of sitting down with her: “Yeah, I think so.”
The meetings are a chance for senators, especially swing votes, to delve into a Supreme Court candidate’s judicial philosophy. But they also largely serve an opportunity for senators to get to know the nominee on a personal level. Much of Jackson’s meetings with Schumer and Durbin, the senators said, were taken up with personal chitchat, including talk about her childhood, her two daughters and her Sunday night family get-togethers.
“You can see it when you meet her that she has real empathy,” Schumer told reporters after meeting Jackson on Wednesday morning.
Ultimately, the meetings are in part for show, in the sense that few senators delve into deep legal questions, generally saving those for the confirmation hearing itself.
“Sometimes I ask a bunch of constitutional questions, but I’ve kind of given up on that recently,” Grassley said, saying he would rather wait until the hearing to ask substantive questions to get the nominee on the record.
McConnell said during an interview with conservative radio host Guy Benson that he raised the issue of Supreme Court expansion with Jackson, noting that other justices including Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been vocal in their opposition to the idea. McConnell said he did not get an answer from Jackson, noting that he expected it to surface in her confirmation hearings.
Though Supreme Court confirmation hearings historically attract hundreds of interested onlookers, it was unclear whether Jackson’s hearing would be open to the public, as Capitol Hill continues to navigate out of the coronavirus pandemic. Following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Jackson did not wear a mask, nor did the phalanx of White House aides who accompanied her.