March 26, 2022
Republican senators in the Jackson confirmation hearings were an abominable disgrace. I am shocked, shocked.
An Exceptional Merit award goes to Lindsay Graham. The guy who, during the 2016 primaries, denounced Trump as a monster. Who then became a Trump lover. Until January 6, when he re-denounced Trump, declaring himself all done with him. Until a few days later when he was back in Trump’s pocket.
Graham in the hearings spit fire over Democrats’ past treatment of Republican Supreme Court nominees. Especially beer-loving Brett Kavanaugh, credibly accused of sexual assault. Graham apparently thinks that should never have been brought up. Nor the issue of Kavanaugh’s judicial temperament, after his deranged partisan rant calling the opposition to his nomination a Clintonian revenge conspiracy.
Yet Kavanaugh was, after all, confirmed. Strangely (or not) Graham never mentioned how Republicans treated Merrick Garland in his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Oh, wait. They never gave him a hearing at all.
But mainly the Jackson hearings showcased Republicans’ grand project of confabulating an alternate reality. Where they’re fighting to save America from destruction by evil Democrats. Mirroring Putin’s alternate reality where the “special military operation” is to save Ukrainians from Nazis, and protect righteous Russia from the wicked West. Here, it’s Judge Jackson as some sort of extremist left-wing woke “critical race theory” radical. Her color was all Republicans needed; it was off to the races (pun intended).
Reality check: Judge Jackson is an upstanding model of mainstream centrist responsible judicial professionalism. Almost colorless, you might say.
“Soft on crime” was another key theme. When I hear those words “soft on crime,” I gag at the cynical bullshit. Antipathy toward criminality is baked deeply into all normal human brains. No reasonable person is “soft on crime.” It’s always questions of what really serves justice and society’s true interests, which can be very tricky. “Soft on crime” accusations don’t help.
And Republicans are thoroughgoing hypocrites on this, because a huge part of America’s crime problem is guns, and Republicans have for decades warred against all sensible gun regulation. If anyone’s “soft on crime,” it’s them.
And they’ve been notably soft on America’s premier criminal — Donald J. Trump.
As for Judge Brown, they tried to paint her as soft on child porn in particular, by raking over her sentencing record. (Though sentencing isn’t a Supreme Court function, but never mind that.) Sentencing — trying to do proper justice with a flesh-and-blood human being before you — is always problematic.* From the hearings, it seemed Judge Jackson acted much in line with how most judges act. Her sentences were typically lower than what prosecutors advocated, but it’s their job to go for the max. Hardly shocking if a judge is more moderate.
One key case concerned 18-year-old Wesley Hawkins, sentenced to three months. Republicans like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley called this scandalous leniency. Now, child porn is a vicious crime — by those who produce it. But this teenager did not create the porn, just downloaded it. True, it would not exist without an audience for it. And it was described as sadomasochistic, very disturbing, I can’t fathom anyone getting off on that. Nevertheless, a kid of 18 merely accessing something readily available on any computer doesn’t seem a heinous criminal. Just being put through a trial was surely punishment aplenty. Jackson moderated justice with mercy and humanity. I myself might well have given him no jail time.
It’s those holier-than-thou Republican moralists, baying for the blood of a misguided kid, who are truly depraved. Not fit to lick the shoes of Ketanji Brown Jackson.
They tied themselves in knots trying to avoid the appearance of outright racism while cynically playing the race card in pandering to their white nationalist peanut gallery. And in that regard President Biden handed them an unfortunate gift by having promised to appoint a Black woman. So unnecessary a pledge. I wish he’d just nominated Judge Jackson without it. Thus she could’ve been seen as the best possible person all around. Not implausible considering her very great merits. But Biden’s advance pledge served to relegate Jackson to being merely the pick of the limited crop of Black women lawyers. A diminishment of her.
Blacks are key supporters of the Democratic party, and Democrats should be responsive to their concerns and interests. But there’s a good way, and a not-so-good way. The good way is to pursue policies that benefit our society as a whole, making sure that’s done as inclusively as possible, so Blacks get their full share. Appointing Judge Jackson fit with that. The other way is epitomized by Biden’s promising to appoint a Black woman. Making Democrats seem unduly obsessed with identity politics.
The Economist recently reviewed Michael Kazin’s book, What It Took to Win, a history of the Democratic party. The review is tellingly titled, “Tail Wags Donkey.” From the 1930s to the ’60s, Democrats were politically dominant, by following the good way, emphasizing economic policies beneficial to the broadest possible swathe of voters. But since then the party has often seemed bedazzled by culture issues (like gay rights) and, especially, identity politics — which a lot of voters see as disrespecting them, coddling minorities, and divisive rather than uniting. Something Republicans have exploited maximally — and yet more divisively. While the great irony is that though Democrats are criticized for stressing culture issues, for Republicans (as the Jackson hearings showed) it’s all culture issues, they have no economic policies at all; certainly not any that cater to the mass of their voters.
* The night I learned of my own appointment as a judge, I had a harrowing dream, of a road lined by people hanging. “Don’t you remember?” I was told. “You sentenced them.” But fortunately mine was not that kind of judgeship.