Confirmation hearings will begin on Monday, March 21 for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, and University of Southern Mississippi Professor Dr. Troy Gibson anticipates another contentious, partisan battle.
Brown Jackson will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions from Democratic and Republican senators. When President Joe Biden announced his selection last month, she became the first Black woman nominated to the nation’s highest court.
Former President Donald Trump had the rare opportunity to nominate three justices – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett – during his one term in office. All three earned narrow Senate confirmation, but not without highly emotional rhetoric from both sides of the political aisle.
“The nomination process will be contentious, at least on the surface,” said Gibson, Associate Professor of Political Science at USM. “When personal ideology was introduced as a relevant factor in the nomination process, starting with the confirmation hearings of Robert Bork (1987), the process became much more partisan. Republicans will likely pay Democrats back for the previous three nominations.”
Brown Jackson currently serves as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, then attended Harvard Law School, where she graduated cum laude and was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. She also served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, whose retirement announcement earlier this year paved the way for Brown Jackson’s nomination.
Though few Republican senators have yet to voice strong opposition to Brown Jackson, Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., has indicated that he will not shy from criticizing Jackson, accusing her of taking a soft approach on sex offenders. When the Senate confirmed Coney Barrett’s nomination in October 2020, not a single Democrat among the 47 voted in her favor. She was confirmed by a vote of 52-48 – with Republican Sen. Susan Collins voting against the nomination.
Gibson notes that scholars are not in complete agreement on why today’s primary political parties have become so polarized.
“Some say that that there is a demographic shift underneath polarization, based on class, urbanization, and race,” said Gibson. “Others argue that the source is more philosophical in nature or even religious in nature, with a growing divide between those with a worldview rooted in transcendent and objective truth with an eye toward another world to come or spiritual reality, and those with a worldview rooted in an immanent frame of reference, focusing on the here and now and the material world alone.”
As Gibson points out, the parties have more or less “taken sides” on this question over the decades.
Trump’s three confirmed nominees created a conservative majority on the high court. Brown Jackson would take the seat of liberal Justice Breyer. In recent years, Democrats have called for an expansion of the court from its current nine justices to 13. Gibson expressed doubt that the process known as “packing the court” will happen anytime soon.
“There is a widespread consensus that court packing schemes seriously undermine the court’s integrity, independence, and coequal status in our constitutional system,” said Gibson. “I think that the threats to pack the court are mostly empty. Nevertheless, in an age of partisan polarization, political winning in the short term often trumps long-term political principles.”