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12 Questions that Would Actually Help Us Learn Something about Ketanji Brown Jackson

Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will face a barrage of senatorial questions over the next two days, as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee scramble to get their moment of face time in a high-profile confirmation hearing.

Nobody expects the hearings to derail her nomination, or even to surface much new information: With Democrats controlling the Senate, Jackson is likely to be confirmed, and like all modern nominees she’s been practicing how to avoid stoking any controversy in the Capitol.

That doesn’t mean we can’t learn something about her along the way. Jackson’s appointment to Stephen Breyer’s seat won’t change the ideological divide on the bench, but her confirmation would be historic: She’ll be the first Black woman justice, and also the first former public defender on the court. In other words, she could be transformative even without shifting the balance of votes.

With that in mind, POLITICO Magazine reached out to a select group of constitutional scholars and Supreme Court watchers to ask: What one question should senators ask to understand how she’ll shape the court?


With the Supreme Court dominated by conservatives, your role may be mostly symbolic. Justices Thurgood Marshall and Sandra Day O’Connor affected the shape of the court greatly by the power of symbolism. How do you plan to use your symbolic role to shape Americans’ relationship with their Supreme Court?

Linda Hirshman is a lawyer, cultural historian and author of several books, including Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World and, most recently, The Color of Abolition: How A Printer, A Prophet, and a Contessa Moved a Nation.

Judge Jackson’s answer to this would tease out what a young liberal judge thinks she can do in the face of an extreme and intransigent ideological supermajority. All Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg could do was dissent for the ages. But that is a sad option for a young new justice. Does she have other ideas? And if the other ideas include cultural transformation through symbolism, how does she see her role, as compared to O’Connor, say, who kept a brutal public schedule spreading the word of female presence, or Sonia Sotomayor, who utilizes the power of the pen and Oprah-like appearances.


How have your experiences with the criminal legal system shaped your views about the nation’s system of crime and punishment, and about the judicial role?

Tomiko Brown-Nagin is a POLITICO Magazine contributing editor, dean of Harvard Radcliffe Institute and author of Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality.

Critics have seized upon Judge Jackson’s two-year stint as a public defender, characterizing it as a liability, as an inappropriate or even disqualifying practice background for a Supreme Court justice. But Jackson’s many forms of engagement with the realities and challenges of the criminal justice system — as a lawyer, federal trial court judge, vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and member of a family that includes law enforcement officers and a formerly incarcerated uncle — are strong, valuable assets. These experiences could quite possibly make her an influential, perhaps transformational, justice in the years ahead. So, I would pose a question that encouraged her to reflect upon these critically important endeavors.

Read entire article at Politico