President Biden Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson nomination to the Supreme Court immediately brought Senate scrutiny of her record and initiated a well-established confirmation process that became as much about politics and ideology as judicial record and professional experience.
Now that the identity of Mr. Biden’s chosen one is known, Senate Democrats and Republicans, as well as related interest groups, will begin to push their rival cases against Judge Jackson in the hope of quickly creating a portrait of her in the public mind.
Democrats have set a goal of getting Senate approval in early April and plan to call a Judiciary Committee hearing in late March.
Leading Democrats said they would like the Senate to vote for Judge Jackson by April 8, before a scheduled two-week recess. The fact that less than a year ago she passed a Senate hearing for her seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia should improve the chances of meeting that schedule.
But conflict in Ukraine and Washington’s focus on this could potentially disrupt plans and slow down its consideration.
First: meetings with senators
The Senate process will begin in earnest next week when Judge Jackson travels to the Capitol for courteous meetings with Senate leaders and senior members of the Judiciary Committee, as well as other senators the White House considers key to securing confirmation.
The meetings are mostly ceremonial, orientation meetings, although some legislators use closed-door meetings as an opportunity to try to examine a candidate’s views in detail. They can also create some problems, as happened in 2017 when Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, then President Donald J. Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, disagreed with Trump’s criticism of the federal judiciary during a meeting with a Democratic senator that angered the president.
Along with the meetings on Capitol Hill, the candidate and her support team will need to answer a detailed Judiciary Committee questionnaire, which aims to produce a comprehensive record of topics such as speeches, letters, and past cases.
Then: Murder Boards and committee vote.
At some point in the coming weeks, the nominee will also take part in mock hearings, known as assassination councils, to practice answering the sort of interrogations expected of Republicans. In recent confirmation hearings, candidates have tended to avoid substantive answers to most major questions and have been more general about their views on the courts and the Constitution.
Given a 50-50 split in the Senate, the Judiciary Committee, led by Senator Richard J. Durbin, D-Illinois, is itself split evenly: 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans. If no Republican in the group votes to nominate the nominee, Democrats will have to take additional steps to force her off the committee.
While Judge Amy Coney Barrett raced through confirmation hearings and went to trial right before the 2020 presidential election, the time between nomination and the start of public hearings was typically around 45 days. Given how Republicans have ripped through Judge Barrett’s confirmation, Democrats are trying to shorten the process while avoiding criticism for moving too quickly.
Finally: Senate Hearings That Can Be Controversial and Final Vote
Given her approval last year, Judge Jackson has previously been confirmed three times by the Senate—once to an appellate court position, once to a Federal District Court seat in 2013, and in 2010 to head the federal sentencing commission. The Senate held a roll-call vote for only the appellate court position, and it was confirmed last June 53–44.
But consideration of a candidate for the Supreme Court is a class in itself, and the previous result is no guarantee that she will be able to receive the same level of support.
While recent confirmation battles have been tumultuous, Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have largely held the fire so far. Partly because the new justice no change in the ideological image of the court is expected. Republicans also acknowledge the political risks of taking a too hard line on the first black woman nominated for the Supreme Court, though some have criticized Mr. Biden for limiting his search to race and gender.
This week in Kentucky, Mr. McConnell said he was not bothered by Mr. Biden’s decision to promise to select a black woman. He also said that he expects the candidate to “be respectfully vetted through a process that I think you would be proud of.”
However, some Republican members of the Judiciary Committee have previously raised objections to Judge Jackson’s record and views, and they can be expected to do so again in the high-profile setting of the Supreme Court confirmation hearing. The handful of Republicans on the commission are seen as potential presidential candidates in 2024, and they’ll want voters to see them sharply challenge Biden’s candidacy.