U.S. Supreme Court pick Jackson rejects Republican criticism on crime

WASHINGTON, March 22 (Reuters) – Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s US Supreme Court nominee, on Tuesday rejected Republican claims that she has been overly lenient toward some criminal defendants as a judge and pledged to “stay in my lane” if confirmed to the lifetime job.

Jackson, in responding to Republican accusations that she has been soft on child pornography defendants, told the Senate Judiciary Committee during the second day of her confirmation hearing: “As a mother and a judge who has had to deal with these cases, I was thinking that nothing could be further from the truth.”

Jackson also said her past legal representation of detainees at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was consistent with American values ​​of fairness.

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Jackson, nominated by Biden in February to become the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s top judicial body, has served since last year as a federal appellate judge after eight years as a federal district court judge.

In the first of two days of questioning by senators, Jackson said she has received messages from girls around the country saying her nomination has made them think about the law in new ways “because I am a woman and a Black women.”

“We want, I think, as a country for everyone to believe that they can do things like sit on the Supreme Court,” Jackson told Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. “And so having meaningful numbers of women and people of color, I think, matters. I also think it supports public confidence in the judiciary when you have different people because we have such a diverse society.”

Jackson vowed independence and promised not to be an activist judge.

“Over the course of my career of almost a decade on the bench I have developed a methodology that I use in order to ensure I am ruling impartially and I am adhering to the limits of my judicial authority. I’m acutely aware that as a judge in our system I have limited power and I try to stay in my lane,” Jackson said.

“I’m not importing my personal views or preferences,” she added in explaining her approach to cases to Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, the committee’s chairman.

Her confirmation would not change the court’s ideological balance – it has a 6-3 conservative majority – but would let Biden freshen his liberal bloc with a justice young enough – age 51 – to serve for decades.

‘POLICY ISSUE’

Jackson declined to weigh in on calls from some on the left to expand the number of seats on the court to wipe out its current conservative majority. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, in her 2020 confirmation hearing, also declined to weigh in on the issue. Jackson said: “It is a policy question for Congress, and I am particularly mindful of not speaking to policy issues because I am so committed to staying in my lane of the system.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, complaining that Democrats unfairly criticized Barrett’s Catholic religious practices, posed a series of questions to Jackson on her religion, which she described as nondenominational Protestant.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley has criticized Jackson’s record of handing down what he called “lenient” sentences as a trial judge in child pornography cases, below what the federal sentencing guidelines would recommend.

Jackson said that during sentencing for offenders who download child porn images, she confronts them about the impact on victims.

“I say to them there is only a market for this kind of material because there are ‘lookers,’ that they are contributing to child sex abuse,” Jackson said.

Federal judges routinely impose penalties below the advisory guidelines in cases involving defendants who do not themselves produce child pornography, according to the US Sentencing Commission, which has urged Congress to address inconsistencies in the guidelines that result in penalties for some that are too lenient and some too severe.

Jackson’s “sentencing practices for child pornography cases are squarely within the mainstream of federal district court judges nationally,” a group of sentencing experts said in a March 20 letter to the committee.

Some Republicans have sought to tie Jackson to activists on the left who say American history and institutions are infused with racism. Questioned by the panel’s top Republican, Chuck Grassley, she pointed to the progress made since her parents were required by law to attend racially segregated schools as children.

“The fact we had come that far was, for me, a testament to the hope and promise of this country, the greatness of America,” Jackson said.

Jackson worked from 2005 to 2007 as a court-appointed lawyer paid by the government to represent criminal defendants who could not afford counsel. During that time she was assigned four clients who were Guantanamo detainees. She later continued representing one of them when in private practice, a case that she also said was assigned to her.

Some Republicans have criticized Jackson for representing the Guantanamo detainees. Jackson told the panel that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States were tragic but defended her representation of detainees captured afterward. “We couldn’t let the terrorists win by changing who we were fundamentally,” she said.

Graham questioned Jackson about a brief she worked on in 2009 in private practice that argued that the United States did not have the right to indefinitely hold detainees. Jackson said that was the view of several legal nonprofit groups the firm was representing, including the libertarian Cato Institute think tank.

Biden nominated Jackson for the lifetime job to succeed retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, setting up a confirmation battle in the closely divided Senate.

If confirmed, Jackson would be the 116th justice to serve on the high court, the sixth woman and the third Black person. With Jackson on the bench, the court for the first time would have four women and two Black justices.

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Moira Warburton, Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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