The bad faith questions, the baseless accusations, the time wasting – Brown Jackson’s interrogators do not see her as an equal
What should have been a historic moment for the first Black woman to be nominated to the US supreme court, has become a scene of childish political theatre, thanks to Senate Republicans. And as President Joe Biden
’s nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson makes her way through the last round of questioning by the Senate judiciary committee, one thing is clear: she deserves better.
As the world watches the hearings unfold, the image from day one of Brown Jackson being grilled relentlessly by a group of old white men still sticks out vividly to me. Not only is she already being held up to far more scrutiny than any white man in her position would be, but the line of questioning from across the aisle has devolved into the absolutely ridiculous.
Picture this: a successful attorney and judge with a decade on the bench and more judicial experience than 43 of the last 58 justices who took the bench, being questioned on whether or not she knows what a “woman” is, and whether or not babies are racist. Brown Jackson was also asked whether she is an “activist judge”, implying that she could come into the role with her own political and presumably racial agenda, and questioned about her faith.
Every Black woman on earth can relate to the cringing, soul-crushing feeling of having to answer – with grace and a smile – questions that your white counterparts would never be asked. And Brown Jackson is no exception, as she’s held her composure in the face of intense and often ludicrous lines of inquiry.
But even if she was able to navigate the absurd queries and gotcha questions designed to trip her up, Republicans had another strategy; outrightly discrediting her, including an accusation from Senator Josh Hawley that she “has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook” (that claim that was quickly disproven).
In one of the more absurd turns on the first day, Republicans also made sure to center themselves, by calling back to current justice Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious 2018 hearings and “assuring” Brown Jackson that she wouldn’t get the same treatment. “You’re the beneficiary of Republican nominees having their lives turned upside down,” said the South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. “Most of us couldn’t go back to our offices during Kavanaugh without getting spit on.” The Texas senator Ted Cruz also promised her that her “dating habits” wouldn’t be scrutinized either (because what is the Republican party if not the picture of graciousness and integrity, right?).
The pushback here is obvious – Brown Jackson hasn’t been credibly accused of sexual misconduct, so why would she be queried in the same way? Still, it’s impossible to overstate just how terrible the optics of this are. Using a Black woman’s confirmation hearing as an opportunity to martyrise a white man accused of sexual assault is objectively horrible. But as Paul Waldman notes in the Washington Post, the move wasn’t just an embarrassing new low for the party, it was another intentional gesture. The sense of victimhood they are invoking through Kavanaugh is a sentiment that has tied the Republican party to its base, and one that will no doubt help secure continued support for them.
All of it – the bad faith questions, the baseless accusations, the time wasting – makes it clear that Brown Jackson’s interrogators do not see her as an equal, and are determined to undermine her however they can. And despite being promised a “respectful” hearing, Brown Jackson was met with and forced into the middle of old political squabbles.
Still, the hearings are just one small part of this. And if Brown Jackson is confirmed (which will most likely be the case), her appointment will no doubt pave new paths for people who look like her, paths that will hopefully be much smoother than the one she had to take.