Politics

Dick Durbin ‘Very Concerned’ How Republicans Will Treat Ketanji Brown Jackson

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Monday that he’s “very concerned” Republicans will unleash ugly attacks on Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s character or her identity as a Black woman.

Speaking with reporters on Capitol Hill, Durbin gave two reasons he’s worried.

First, he said, is that he’s seen the way some GOP members of the committee have treated other Black, female nominees who have come before the panel. He said there’s been a theme to Republicans questioning these nominees’ “temperament” to be a judge.

“I listened to the questions from some of my colleagues and it doesn’t reflect well on their temperament,” Durbin said. “I think there is an opportunity to be direct and pointed without being confrontational and disrespectful.”

It’s not the first time Durbin has accused some Republicans of treating President Joe Biden’s Black, female court picks worse than others. In late January, he told reporters that some of Biden’s judicial nominees had become “more controversial than I anticipated.”

When HuffPost asked if there has been a pattern to those nominees, Durbin said flatly, “Assertive women of color.”

The Democratic senator said Monday that he’s also concerned unfairly harsh GOP attacks on Jackson could lead to dangerous threats against her. Without naming names, Durbin said there was another Black, female nominee before his committee recently who he thought “was excellent, a judge herself,” and whom Republicans were particularly aggressively questioning.

“One or more of the senators on the other side decided to put on Twitter some statements about their testimony,” Durbin said. “There were threats on her family after that.”

Sen. Dick Durbin is “very concerned” Republicans will unleash ugly attacks on Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s character and her identity as a Black woman.

Aaron Bernstein via Reuters

It’s not clear which nominee Durbin was referring to ― Biden has nominated and confirmed a number of Black women to lifetime federal judgeships ― but there was at least one other Black, female nominee who came before Durbin’s committee and received death threats during and after her confirmation: now-Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins.

Republicans including Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.) and Ted Cruz (Texas) attacked Rollins for being “one of the preeminent legal arsonists in the country,” “wholly unfit,” “radical” and someone responsible for “lawlessness and dangerous crime.” They made a point to condemn her on the Senate floor and during TV appearances.

In reality, their ire over Rollins was part of a broader GOP effort to condemn “progressive prosecutors,” a new movement of Democratic district attorneys who reject broad tough-on-crime measures and instead welcome policies like declining to prosecute low-level crimes and ending cash bail. Rollins, who was the district attorney in Boston, has been a proponent of criminal justice reforms and has said these reforms make the system more fair to poor and minority defendants while focusing taxpayer money on fighting serious offenses.

Rollins was ultimately confirmed in December on a party-line vote that required Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie. She is the state’s first Black woman to serve as U.S. attorney.

Durbin said Monday that it’s hard enough to ask people to sign up for public service, in part because it “requires sacrifice for you and your family.” He urged his colleagues to go “out of their way” to avoid dangerous rhetoric around Jackson’s confirmation process.

“To subject them to that kind of abuse is inexcusable,” he said.

If confirmed, Jackson would be the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.
If confirmed, Jackson would be the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kevin Lamarque via Reuters

Durbin didn’t give many specifics on the timing of Jackson’s confirmation hearing, but vowed to make the process “orderly” and “timely.” He said he “would like to” have her confirmation done by April 6, when the Senate goes into recess for its Easter and Passover break.

Jackson, currently a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, has already demonstrated that she can pick up at least some GOP support in the Senate. When she was confirmed to her current judgeship in June, three Republicans joined Democrats in voting to confirm her: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

When the Senate confirmed Jackson to her previous seat on the U.S. district court in 2013, it was by a unanimous vote.


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