For Jackson, we’ll have a confirmation hearing with a side of civility, please.
Today, members of the Senate will begin exercising their constitutional duty to consider and ultimately vote on the nomination of the DC Circuit Judge. Ketanji Brown JacksonKetanji Brown Jackson Durbin: Hawley criticizes ‘inaccurate and unfair’ Jackson Sasse: ‘There are things in Justice Jackson’s case that are troubling’ Criminal justice reformers rally for first public defender at Supreme Court MORE to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States.
As a lawyer for President George W. Bush and later as Attorney General, I had the responsibility of studying and evaluating the qualifications and character of many people for possible appointment to the court. . My work consisted primarily of determining whether a potential candidate is qualified by experience, temperament, judgment and training to serve on the tribunal. More importantly, I worked to discern how the individual would likely approach or decide cases, in other words, their judicial philosophy.
How would the individual interpret the words and passages of our Constitution and laws passed by Congress? Was the individual a follower of precedent or would he abandon a prior court decision based on the belief that the language of the Constitution or federal law required a different result? How would changing American societal norms or the customs and practices of other nations influence the perspective and decisions of the individual? Finally, did the individual have the discipline and commitment to consistently apply these principles when making decisions? Not just for the next decade, but for decades to come.
Judge Jackson has been a federal judge for about eight years. She is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School and served as a clerk to the United States Supreme Court. Just a year ago and with bipartisan support, she was confirmed to the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, considered by many to be the second most powerful court in the nation. She served as vice chair of the US Sentencing Commission and, if confirmed, would be the first black woman to serve on the court and the first judge to have worked as a federal public defender.
Presidential elections have consequences, and a Republican president would likely have nominated someone else to succeed Judge Breyer on the court. I have not made an exhaustive review of his decisions and his writings. However, from what I have seen, Jackson appears to be generally in the mainstream of American jurisprudence and appears to be qualified for this nomination. Will I agree with every vote cast by a Judge Jackson if confirmed? No, surely not. But I don’t agree, and I wouldn’t expect to agree, with every decision made by judges appointed by Republican presidents, including those I recommended to President Bush.
Of course, senators have the discretion to consider the factors they deem important in determining whether they consent. The vigorous questioning of a person seeking a lifetime appointment to our highest court is not only appropriate, it is essential. Too often, senators from outside the president’s political party use confirmation hearings as a platform to score political points at the expense of the president and his party. Recently, we have seen confirmation hearings turn into political arenas of personal attacks devoid of humanity or dignity.
With this candidate, Republicans and Democrats have the opportunity to rise above past feuds. Voting against a candidate based on personality or politics harms the federal judiciary by suggesting that judges are part of a political institution whose decisions reflect the political or personal views of individual judges. While it is within their rights, senators who engage in political grandstanding do not help the process, promote civility, or advance the rule of law.
Some have suggested that Republicans should vote to confirm Judge Jackson out of political calculation, perhaps to help the Republican Party support the court in future elections with moderates and the black community. Others argue that Judge Jackson’s confirmation would harm our case law relatively little because of the current 6-3 conservative majority on the court. These are possible reasons to support his nomination if you are a Republican.
However, I respectfully suggest that the Senate vote to confirm Jackson based on her qualifications and her promise to God and country that she will uphold the rule of law enshrined in our Constitution.
Alberto Gonzales was the 80th United States Attorney General and Advisor to the President in the George W. Bush administration. He is now Dean and Emeritus Doyle Rogers Professor of Law at Belmont University College of Law.