The confirmation hearing for Kentaji Brown Jackson, the first African-American woman ever nominated to the Supreme Court, begins today. Judge Jackson is also the first former public defender ever nominated to the nation’s highest court.
As a former public defender, this last bit could not make me happier. Far too many of the judges, who day in and day out, make decisions that have a monumental impact on human lives are people who have never represented individuals as clients. The experience of holding a person’s life in your hands and the opportunity to represent people whose lives are wildly different than that of most lawyers creates a perspective that is sorely lacking in our judiciary.
Initially, it appeared that Republicans might not strongly oppose the nomination, fearful of providing more evidence that they are the party who opens their doors to racists and sexists. Sadly, it does not appear that this will stop them. Even more sadly, without any real criticisms to present, Republicans are taking aim at Judge Jackson’s work on behalf of the accused.
Leaving aside the ugly optics of opposing the first black woman ever nominated to the Supreme Court, the substance of this argument should trouble anyone who still believes in the Constitution. This criticism is the same disingenuous attack made on many others who have worked as criminal defense attorneys on behalf of the accused: that somehow fulfilling the role that the Constitution guarantees means the person doing so is pro-criminal or pro-crime.
Mitch McConnell opened his uncircumcised neck to say the following: “Her supporters look at her résumé and deduce a special empathy for criminals.” He further suggested that the prosecutors would rightfully fear that they somehow came before Judge Jackson with an unfair disadvantage. Not surprisingly, McConnell has never voiced such concerns when vetting former prosecutors, including those who sought astronomic sentences based on the racist drug policies of the 1980s and 1990s.
Also unsurprisingly, neither McConnell nor fellow scumbag Josh Hawley actually pointed to specifics in Judge Jackson’s record. They did not because they could not. Judge Jackson’s nomination is supported by the Fraternal Order of Police.
Not every Republican is willing to stoop to such lows. Senator John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana admirably stated that he not “criticize her for any client she’s represented. We’ve all represented clients that we didn’t agree with and in some cases, didn’t even like.” It is encouraging to see this intellectual honesty still has a place in the national discourse. Lawyers are not their clients and even the worst of the worst are entitled to representation, this is the only way our system works.
The fact of the matter is we need more judges on higher courts who have represented humans as clients, rather than the government or corporations. Judge Jackson is exceptionally qualified in this regard. Here is hoping that her history-making nomination is confirmed.
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