Cynical Descent: Senate Republicans’ Tortured Smear of Ketanji Brown Jackson


Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was introduced to America at her Supreme Court confirmation hearings as a person of qualification and intellect. At the same time, the nation received a quite different first dose of Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee. Blackburn went on and on about “culture wars” and asked Judge Jackson to define a woman. Blackburn is a person who judges without evidence, witness this Tweet: “The radical left is teaching five-year-olds that they can choose their own sex. Meanwhile, they’ve put forward a nominee to the Supreme Court who cannot define the word ‘woman.’”

How did Tennessee, home to past Senate Majority Leaders, come to elect a Tea Party supporter to the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body? A Supreme Court confirmation hearing played a role. In 2018, Republicans deployed the “smearing” of nominee Brett Kavanaugh to their advantage in conservative states.  It worked in Tennessee, where Blackburn beat a blue-chip Democratic nominee, ex-Gov. Phil Bredensen.

The political right displays a cynical mastery when it comes to creating issues. Its nationwide propaganda network ranges from rhinos (Sean Hannity) to tick birds (Dori Monson). It generates issues from whole cloth, witness Blackburn’s talking about “woke” culture, sex change, and manufactured evils of critical race theory.

Judge Kavanaugh was worked over the coals, legitimately because of a specific allegation of attempted rape rendered – hesitantly and reluctantly – by a credible person. The Jackson hearings before Senate Judiciary Committee have shown what a real-life smear looks like.

On the Senate floor, in Tuesday’s debate, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, hit a new low as he stated: “The last Judge (Robert) Jackson left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremburg and prosecute the case against the Nazis. This Judge Jackson might have gone there to defend them.”

The Republicans are at it again, ginning up issues and targeting folk ranging from legal-services lawyers to transgender teens. They have in mind three ends. The GOP “base” is a minority of voters, which means they must be mobilized by stoking anger, particularly in low-turnout off-year elections. Secondly, make it difficult for such non-Republican constituencies as working women, people of color, and young folks to vote. Third, officeholders who stray from the party and the Trump line must be terrorized. Of the three Republican senators who are voting for Judge Jackson’s confirmation, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, Tweeted on Tuesday: “Collins, Murkowski, and Romney are pro-pedophile.”

I watched the Judiciary Committee hearing with a neighbor who is African American. She was upset at this latest boorish treatment of a black woman. So were many African American women, an outrage given eloquent voice by Joy Reid and guests on MSNBC. But this outrage is not enough and not enduring. Political progressives are roused less often, which is not good for the nation. When it does happen – such as the Judiciary Committee’s treatment of Anita Hill and the growth of the #me-too movement – positive social change results. 

Progressives don’t deploy a grievance machine that nurtures past anger. Quite the contrary — the urge is to move on and move ahead. Shiny new matters grab attention.  A vast citizen movement fueled Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency, but then he seemed to say, “I’ll take it from here.” The activism wasn’t there to advocate for the Affordable Care Act, and the troops were not turned out to defend it in the 2010 election campaign.

Recalling midterm shellackings in 1994 and 2010, there is in 2022 the peril of a “three-peat.” The stakes are too high to sit this one out. Trump is far from gone. The Trump movement is very much alive, and the Republican Party is subservient to it.

With abortion cases before the Supreme Court, Americans may soon see a right taken away.  It has happened before, as when 80 years ago the nation sent Japanese Americans to internment camps, but never with more than half the population affected, and never with a right, the right to choice, consistently supported in polls by a majority of Americans.

Judge Jackson was confirmed by the Senate, not with the 80-plus votes given Ruth Bader Ginsberg but with 53 or 54 votes. She has the candle power to excel on the Supreme Court, but likely never will forget her treatment before the Judiciary Committee. Nor should we. Nor has one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who is voting to confirm based on Judge Jackson’s “range of experience from the courtroom that few can match given her background in litigation.”

Of her decision, Murkowski said Friday: “It also rests on my rejection of the corrosive politicization of the review process for Supreme Court nominees, which, on both sides of the aisle, is growing worse and more detached from reality by the year.”

The proposed revocation of rights is a must-follow, must-act matter for progressives. The selection, nomination, and confirmation of federal judges is also vital to protecting these rights. Note, for instance, how judicial nominations put forward by Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have already made the federal bench in Washington look a lot more like the state’s population.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


    • @ Paul Schmidt: Read this again:

      “Judge Kavanaugh was worked over the coals, legitimately because of a specific allegation of attempted rape rendered – hesitantly and reluctantly – by a credible person. The Jackson hearings before Senate Judiciary Committee have shown what a real-life smear looks like.”

      What part of “specific allegation” do you not understand? Joel is spot on here. It was no different than the specific allegations made against Clarence Thomas, and no different from the specific allegations made against the liberal Justice Abe Fortas, who was forced to resign from the Court altogether.

      In contrast, none of the criticisms leveled by right-wing Senators against Judge Jackson were specific at all. They were vague smears, which had nothing to do with anything specific that Judge Jackson had ever done, in private life or in her rulings. Rather, they were throwing (stuff) against the wall to see what would stick, because they had nothing – nothing – to pin on a jurist who has had an exemplary career.

      “Projection?” My a**. Kavanaugh got a fair hearing, and he was confirmed. You right-wingers should have no complaints. Dismissed.

      • The accusations against Kavanagh were never credible for a number of reasons, none of which were allowed to run in your choice of media. You really should do some research on that, especially given the narrative collapses around the Russia hoax and the Hunter laptop non-hoax.

        As for Jackson, asking her why she consistently sentenced pedophiles at the low end of the required range (apologizing to one for not being able to go lower) is hardly an attack. Also, she can’t define “woman.” She should have been disqualified on those two points alone.

  1. I was with you up to the last paragraph – that is, all the part about the Republicans, including Murkowski’s lonely voice.

    But then, then came the Democrats, going to the identity politics cabinet to appoint judges, and I’m reminded of the ongoing discussion about how they’d apparently prefer to be the minority party. Can a judge dispense justice for everyone, without the “lived experience”? How many different victim of injustice populations can be represented on one bench? How much has it been worth, to have Clarence Thomas on the US Supreme Court? I’m reminded of the election some years back – long enough ago that we voted in person – when on the way out of the polling station I overheard one of my neighbors telling another with great satisfaction “I voted for all women!” One of the lucky women judge candidates that year was Jeanette Burrage – yeah, the one who gave woman attorneys flack for not wearing skirts.

    Not that this is a black and white issue, if you’ll excuse the expression – we do benefit from a certain amount of “affirmative action” in matters like this. But the kind of rush to satisfy a diversity standard, implied by that last paragraph, makes people feel like the Democrats too use their judicial appointment powers more for politics, than for justice.

    • Please understand that at the surface, looking for minority candidates can seem discriminative, but for generations, the court has entirely of white males. I think that in order to get a fair court, you need a cross section of society serving. Thomas, who is currently on the bench is only the second African American to serve. Jackson will be the third African-American to serve and, I believe, the 6th woman.
      Maybe qualified white candidates were passed up, but qualified minority candidates have been passed up for generations.

      • “To get a fair court …” — so, for a random example, if a Cambodian refugee goes before the court, fairness to some degree depends on scoring a Cambodian refugee judge? Where if a white male like myself were to appear before that judge, I’d be less assured of fairness?

        I get that some degree of discrimination, in principle balancing the discrimination of the past, may be a good thing. My point is that when you make a program like that out of it — “we need a cross section” – you cross a line into identity politics where the claim of better justice is baloney. If justice depended on that cross-section, we’d be sunk, because even if a court had a hundred judges, it couldn’t come close to a cross section of society. Luckily, justice does not depend on identity, and the Democrats should be very careful to avoid the impression that they’re trying to do what you propose.

        • “ I get that some degree of discrimination, in principle balancing the discrimination of the past, may be a good thing.”

          If the same individuals are involved, with the discrimination going in the opposite direction, maybe there’s an argument it’s some form of justice, albeit extralegal.

          However, discriminating against, say, a particular racial group today to balance discrimination others of that race engaged in in the past is just plain old discrimination, and just as wrong as it was before.

          The rest of your comment is well taken.

        • Hi Donn,

          It’s not about using discrimination to balance out past discrimination. As Mike suggested, it’s about having a court that represents a cross-section of the interests of the citizens.

          I wouldn’t have used the word “fair” like Mike did because it quickly takes us into the weeds as you steered, but “fair” is just shorthand for justices being representative of the people – not necessarily their political ideology (the less of that, the better), but life experience. If you bring a racial discrimination case in front of 9 white male judges vs. 9 judges of color, chances are that those 9 white male judges will as a *whole* view the racial discrimination case different than 9 judges of color. You could even take the same case and put it before those same 9 white male judges vs. 9 white female judges and, as a *whole*, the views would be different. Because white females have life experience with discrimination regardless of being white in a way that white males do not. So let’s not make this about something it’s not. No one is saying a white person can’t be “fair” simply because they’re white. But having people with both different and shared life experiences is overall better representation of the views that will shape the laws of this country.

          We have 9 human beings making decisions on the laws of this land for 350+ million other human beings. There will always be qualified candidates passed up. Out of 350+ million people, Kavanaugh was the best of the best? Seriously? Setting aside the rape allegations, there’s about 100,000 other judges and lawyers that would be more qualified to be a supreme court judge, and at least 10 million people who would be more qualified to be a supreme court judge. I would be more qualified and my only legal experience is jury duty. Kavanaugh is a horrible judge and a human being (and that’s true whether or not he raped someone). So this isn’t about better more qualified people being passed up.

          There is no “best” when it comes judges. When you’re at the level of qualifications that Jackson is at as both a judge and a human being, you’re among the best, and we’re not going to do “better” than that no matter how many other people were considered and passed over in favor of her.

          That being said, I think it was a mistake for Biden to present it the way he did. It would have been better for the country and the perception of SCOTUS for him to have simply presented Jackson as his pick.

          • ‘ No one is saying a white person can’t be “fair” simply because they’re white.’

            Yeah, you pretty much are.

            Supreme Court Justices are supposed to represent the Constitution as written, not represent the people, which is up to the Legislative Branch, and the President. Identity politics is nonsensical to begin with, it’s even more so in this situation.

          • We could argue all day over whether people whose achievements qualify them for the US Supreme Court, are reliably representative in any way of their own narrow race etc. classes, let alone disadvantaged classes in general.

            But my point is really that, whether it’s a realistic way to get a better court or not, it doesn’t have broad popular support. The same people who rejoice at the appointment of an accomplished black woman, and recognize that there’s something good about that per se, will recoil from your “cross section” program and its implications.

            Since I see its value as tenuous at best, I wish Democrats wouldn’t choose to die on that hill.

          • Donn Cave wrote: “ The same people who rejoice at the appointment of an accomplished black woman…”

            Which are pretty much the same people who have no problem with Senator Biden promising to filibuster Judge Janice Rogers Brown (a black woman) were Bush to nominate her to the Supreme Court.

            Which is strong evidence for my “identity politics is nonsense” comment,

  2. “I watched the Judiciary Committee hearing with a neighbor who is African American. She was upset at this latest boorish treatment of a black woman.” “Boorish” is putting it mildly. The behavior of the Repugnikans was disgraceful. Not only should they be ashamed; so should anyone who voted for them. Including Paul Schmidt.

  3. I’m so tired of identity politics! Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will forever and always be a cynically-chosen ‘diversity hire’ — Joe Biden did that! I am surprised that she accepted to appointment under those conditions. Judge Jackson has marginalized herself.

    With regard to ongoing ‘tit-for-tat’ political gamesmanship, that sort of unseriousness must end. One-upmanship and gaining advantage at the expense of others is not only unseemly, it is dishonorable as well. Granted, his pick for the Supreme Court was his choice to make but Mr. Biden should have made his selection without the pretense of preselection.

    Thrust and tone, when I come across opinion pieces like this one, I become just as concerned about the potential for Leftist authoritarianism as one might be of rightist extremism.


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