Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff was a bright spot in Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing Wednesday mornings. Ossoff claimed his time to begin with by coming out strong against bickering and time-wasting in a take-charge moment likely to reinvigorate Ossoff-thirst on social media. He then kicked off his questions by giving Jackson a moment to humanize herself, lift up her family, and—not by accident—affirm her ties to law enforcement by talking about her brother the police officer.
Jackson drew a link between her mission and her brother’s, placing them both in a family tradition of public service and saying her work as a lawyer at the time her brother went into law enforcement came out of an “understanding that to defend our country and its values, we also needed to make sure that, when we responded as a country to the terrible attacks on 9/11, we were upholding our constitutional values, that we weren't allowing the terrorists to win by changing who we are.” In saying that, she neatly turned the response to a personal question into a rebuttal of Republican attacks on her for having represented Guantanamo Bay detainees.
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So even Ossoff’s softball opening wasn’t such a softball. But next, he moved to a series of substantive legal questions focused on constitutional rights—you know, the thing the Supreme Court is supposed to be responsible for protecting, about which a series of Republican senators with fancy law degrees have shown relatively little interest.
Ossoff asked Jackson about the First Amendment, giving her space to talk about freedom of the press. He asked her about the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable search and seizure. He asked her about Gideon v. Wainwright, the 1963 Supreme Court decision that guaranteed criminal defendants the right to counsel. In answer to each of these, Jackson was able to talk about the important issues—the issues central to U.S. law and freedoms—she has been nominated to address.
He also asked Jackson to speak to one of her most famous rulings thus far: the one in which, ruling that Donald Trump could not block former White House counsel Don McGahn from congressional testimony, she wrote, “presidents are not kings.” In response, Jackson spoke at length about the separation of powers, explaining how the framers designed the U.S. government not to replicate a monarchy, and saying, in lines even Republicans would have to reach to criticize, “The separation of powers is crucial to liberty. It is what our country is founded on, and it’s important, as consistent with my judicial methodology, for each branch to operate within their own sphere. That means for me that judges can’t make law, judges shouldn’t be policymakers. That’s a part of our constitutional design and it prevents our government from being too powerful and encroaching on individual liberty.”
What do you know? A senator on the Judiciary Committee asking a Supreme Court nominee about her own past rulings on matters of constitutional importance and about key points in the Constitution itself, rather than asking about children’s books or misrepresenting her past sentencing decisions in individual criminal cases or using his time to revive grievances from previous Supreme Court confirmation hearings. It shouldn’t be noteworthy, but it is. Check out the videos below of key moments from Ossoff’s questions and Jackson’s answers.
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