Before the hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court began, Republicans made a pinky-promise. They would not, they insisted, treat Jackson the way they said Democrats treated now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings in 2018.
There are some obvious — and major — differences between the two. Kavanaugh, one of former President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court picks, was accused of an attempted rape. His accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, testified at the hearings. Kavanaugh sobbed, declared how much he loved beer, and was ardently defended by Republicans before they ultimately confirmed him for the high court.
Jackson hasn’t been accused of a crime, went to Harvard Law, and is currently a federal judge.
Republicans had nothing of substance to attack. So they attacked Judge Jackson’s Blackness.
Now that critical race theory has become the catch-all boogeyman for anything Black, liberal — or, god forbid, both — Republicans didn’t miss an opportunity to fearmonger about the academic theory. The official Twitter account for the party tweeted out a GIF implying Jackson’s initials should really be CRT.
It got worse when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) used a children’s book to accuse Jackson of peddling critical race theory during her time on the board of a private school in Washington, D.C.
“Do you agree … that babies are racist?” Cruz asked while holding up a copy of “Antiracist Baby” by Ibram X. Kendi, which he said is taught at Georgetown Day School.
Jackson replied that she has no say over books at the school. But whether she did or didn’t doesn’t matter: Cruz’s comments were all for show.
Critical race theory, both the real version taught to college students and the made-up boogeyman scaring nice white parents across the country, have nothing to do with Jackson’s work on the bench.
Cruz saw a Black woman and knew it was the perfect opportunity to claim that CRT teaches white kids that they’re inherently bad and Jackson was a part of it. You’re the real racist, he was itching to claim.
“Critical race theory, both the real version taught to college students and the made-up boogeyman scaring nice white parents across the country, have nothing to do with Jackson’s work on the bench.”
Outside of the CRT panic, the GOP used rising crime rates to fearmonger. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) led the charge in making baseless accusations that Jackson was too lenient on child predators, pointing to some of the sentences she handed down.
Hawley was obviously seeking to score points with the GOP’s growing conspiracy-minded base who are increasingly seeking to paint everyone on the opposite end of the political spectrum as child predators. By smearing Jackson as sympathetic to sexual predators, Hawley also tried to paint her as “soft on crime.”
It fits perfectly into the GOP’s culture war talking point: Crime is on the rise, and liberals and Black people like Jackson are to blame.
Even when Republican senators acknowledged Jackson’s accomplishments, they revealed their own biases against Black people.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) referred to the nominee as “articulate.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) also called the judge “articulate” and said she did well — in terms of her tone and demeanor, that is.
Using “articulate” to describe a Black person has long been a racist dog whistle. The implication is that it’s surprising that a Black woman like Jackson is articulate because most Black people are not.
Now that the consensus is that Jackson is qualified, smart and did not do anything horrendous during her hearing, her critics are suggesting that maybe she isn’t really Black at all.
And while Republican senators couched their racism in euphemism and dog whistles, unelected conservative leaders didn’t feel bound by such constraints.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson mused openly about whether Jackson’s views were Black enough.
“I have to say, her views really seem like those of every affluent white liberal I’ve ever met,” he said on his show.
“If you picked a rap star off the street, that person’s views would more likely be closer to the views of the average American than the views of this woman,” he added later.
When the nomination was first announced, Carlson was deeply concerned about Jackson’s LSAT scores, even though her scores on the entrance exam for law school are completely unrelated to her experience sitting on the bench.
There’s no rule that the GOP had to turn the hearings into a racist circus. If the senators couldn’t find anything extremely objectionable about Jackson, this whole thing could have been pro forma.
But the conservative party that is seeking to remake this country into a dystopian nightmare for anyone who isn’t a straight white Christian male, couldn’t miss an opportunity to abuse and attack a Black woman on a national stage.
When President Joe Biden promised to nominate a Black woman to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, conservatives balked. Why did the nominee have to be a certain race? Wasn’t that unfair to white people? Their complaints fit neatly in their ideology that they operated in a color-blind world and liberals were obsessed with race.
But during the hearing, the GOP spent a lot of time on race. They attacked the judge for supporting critical race theory. They accused her of being soft on crime. They repeatedly referred to her as “articulate.”
Maybe it’s the conservatives who have been obsessed with race all along.