“Isn’t It Ironic?” Thoughts on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Confirmation Hearings

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“Isn’t it ironic?” English students and language nerds have long debated the question: Exactly how many of the anecdotes in Alanis Morissette’s 2008 song qualify as irony? “Rain on your wedding day”? Probably not. “A free ride when you’ve already paid”? Debatable.

We could parse the song for hours; don’t worry, we won’t. But Morissette’s refrain “Isn’t it ironic?” echoed through my mind after watching snatches of last week’s Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing. When Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn asked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson if she would define the word “woman,” the experienced judge with two Harvard degrees–poised to become the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court bench–said she could not. She was not a biologist. It might just qualify as C-SPAN’s situational irony moment of the year (if that were a thing.)

That moment is significant. But, first, let’s put the moment in context. Jackson’s nomination hearing–like most in our modern era–fluctuated between the theatrical and the theoretical. By now, attentive Americans will have caught a headline, soundbite, or viral photo. Given the political makeup of the U.S. Senate, most everyone expects Jackson to be confirmed. But what should readers–especially Christians who find themselves politically ambivalent–know about the woman poised to receive a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land? Why should they care?

I had the privilege of sitting inside the Senate Judiciary committee room and witnessing fragments of the Roberts and Gorsuch Supreme Court confirmation hearings. I watched bits of this particular hearing as a mom and private citizen–skimming C-SPAN from my home. Here are a few things I noticed from the Judge Jackson hearings:

Her lovely family and inviting temperament:

Throughout the hearing, Jackson carried herself with poise and grace. She seemed sobered by the especially historic nature of her nomination–grateful to God, quick to celebrate the family and appreciate the country that made her career growth possible, and willing to encourage others through the challenges of balancing family and career.

While there’s always a choreographed element to these hearings, her family beamed proudly; her husband of 25 years wiped tears from his eyes as she thanked him for his dedication and support. I don’t expect to ever attract such a spotlight. But if I did, I’d like my demeanor, marriage, and family to hold up like hers. Decency, patriotism, and gratitude aren’t enough to qualify someone to a position on the Supreme Court, but they’re virtues that the American people can certainly celebrate in their leaders.

Encouraging words, concerning actions:

In the days ahead, senators will cast votes on Jackson’s confirmation. Her achievements and the bipartisan support she’s attracted in the past are relevant. But they don’t–and shouldn’t–guarantee her a promotion. As senators look to her potential Supreme Court role, many will prioritize the question of Judge Jackson’s judicial philosophy.

“That is appropriate,” wrote Carrie Severino, an expert on the confirmation process and President of the Judicial Crisis Network. “[T]he topic goes to the definition of what kind of justice she would be. And it is a problematical area, because Jackson had said last year, while a D.C. Circuit Court nominee, that she did “not have a judicial philosophy per se.”

“This time,” Severino continued, “she gave an array of varying answers to the judicial philosophy questions. Interestingly, she included all the right buzzwords for mainstream appeal. She spoke about how judges have limited power and need to stay in their lane.”

But, even though Jackson distanced herself from her mentor, Justice Breyer’s “living Constitution” philosophy, she carefully avoided committing to embracing what one senator called a “precise system of limits on the judicial role.” Sen. Ben Sasse, a member of the committee, explained how Jackson paired philosophical fuzziness with a pattern of partisan judicial policy making. Throughout her tenure as a district court judge, he noted, Jackson “created a new, implied constitutional right to sue; discounted separation of powers principles; and, under the guise of abstract ‘constitutional values,’ shoehorned policy views about the presidency into her opinion.”

Jackson’s answers... raise especially deep concerns that she’ll reliably endorse abortion and transgender ideology from the bench.

She ducked and dodged on serious issues–including core Christian conviction:

Nominees will naturally have policy preferences; they’re not robots. But when one demonstrates her willingness to misuse judicial tools to enact those preferences from the bench, Americans should be concerned. Unfortunately, the Washington Examiner opines, “By her evasions and casuistry on topics of race, gender, sentencing leniency, and speech disruptions, Jackson shows at the very least a marked unwillingness to disavow specific applications of the hard Left’s legal agenda.”

The casual C-SPAN watcher (if such folks exist) may have missed the gaps between her words and her record. But court watchers, commentators, and the minority staff on the Judiciary Committee have assembled a disappointing list of moments that Jackson appeared to obfuscate and mislead on issues like her appreciation for critical race theory, the depth of her free speech commitments (especially for pro-life advocates), or her history of lenient sentencing for criminals.

But Jackson’s answers–paired with a rainbow of endorsements by secular progressive groups–raise especially deep concerns that she’ll reliably endorse abortion and transgender ideology from the bench. Planned Parenthood (and its lobbying arm), NARAL, The Human Rights Campaign, and a trio of leftist groups that lobby for packing the court, have endorsed Jackson in glowing terms.

I’d like to think their enthusiasm is misguided, but the evidence isn’t reassuring. In a recent op-ed, attorney and pro-life advocate Steve Jacobs reviewed Jackson’s responses to three key questions about her views on abortion. Jackson incorrectly referred to Roe as “settled law” –a description that, once true, is now decidedly inaccurate since the Court’s deliberating on a case that takes direct aim at the central holding of the Roe decision. Later, when asked questions about when equal protection of laws attach to a human being or when life begins, Jackson replied that she didn’t know. Jacob’s entire op-ed is worth digesting; but he summarizes pro-life concerns in this way: “Her understanding of [key abortion cases] Roe, Casey and Dobbs is either too weak, or her ideological dedication to abortion rights is too strong, for any reasonable person to deny that Judge Jackson disqualified herself in her bid to sit on our nation’s highest court.”

As National Review’s Alexandra DeSanctis notes, “Jackson’s reticence on the subject isn’t especially surprising. As an attorney, she helped to file an amicus brief for NARAL Pro-Choice America in favor of free-speech ‘buffer zones’ outside of abortion clinics. As a judge, she ruled against a Trump administration effort to limit federal funding flowing to Planned Parenthood abortion clinics.” DeSanctis’s prediction seems sadly on-target: “As a Supreme Court justice, she will almost certainly be a guaranteed vote in favor of expansive abortion rights.”

But let’s go back to the exchange I highlighted at the outset. Before asking Jackson to define “woman,” Sen. Blackburn asked her about the 1996 landmark case, United States v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court overturned (by a 7-1 vote) the Virginia Military Institute’s policy of only admitting men. Jackson pled ignorance of the case–a puzzling move, since liberal icon and feminist Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion and the Court handed down the decision when she was a third year law student at Harvard.

Undeterred, Blackburn continued the line of questioning and Jackson continued to punt. The next day, Sen. Ted Cruz picked up the topic and asked Jackson how she’d be able to determine if a plaintiff had standing “to challenge a gender-based rule, regulation, policy without being able to determine what a woman was?” She offered a succinct, if privatized, response: “Senator,” Jackson said. “I know I am a woman, I know Senator Blackburn is a woman, and the woman I admire most in the world is in the room today, my mother.”

There’s something poignant about Jackson’s decision to bring her mom into the conversation. We can be glad she knows that she and her mother are women. But that personal knowledge doesn’t alleviate the ambivalence she demonstrated the day before. Significantly, the “I know I’m a woman” line poses no threat to a trans ideology that demands that the public recognizes people as women based solely on their own personal beliefs and announcements.

As Kyle Sammin wrote in The Federalist, “Ignoring facts leads to ignoring laws. Jackson’s misstep on this point undermined the idea that she would rule neutrally on politically sensitive matters and threatens to introduce a dangerous arbitrariness to American jurisprudence.”

Many Americans would love to cheer for the appointment of the first Black woman to the highest court of the land. But Judge Jackson’s judicial philosophy, record of judicial policymaking, and apparent complicity with progressives—especially in their abortion regime and transgender ideology—don’t allow me to support her confirmation.

That’s more disheartening than ironic. It’s a bit more consequential than, in Morissette’s words, “rain on your wedding day.” Unless, of course, the rain forces you to call the whole thing off.

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Jessica Prol Smith

Jessica Prol Smith is a writer with 15 years of Washington, DC experience in public policy and on Capitol Hill (including advocacy for the unborn). Her work has been published in USA Today, The Christian Post, The Washington Times, The Daily Wire, and others. She lives in Cumberland, MD with her family.

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