A month ago, it seemed President Joe Biden’s nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court might at least give him a bump in political support among his base. After all, he was fulfilling a campaign promise to Democrats’ most loyal voting bloc, Black women, who had revived his near-death presidential bid in 2020.
When Biden chose to elevate Jackson from the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C., to the replace retiring SCOTUS Justice Stephen Breyer, there was even hope that her confirmation might receive bipartisan support despite the fact that she would sit on a court that will likely rule on critical issues like the future of abortion rights and Affirmative Action in college admissions and beyond. But since, inflation kicked into an even higher gear, gasoline prices jumped to their all-time highs, the fed have promised as many as six interest rate hikes and Russia’s dictator has parked himself somewhere between war criminal and madman bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war.
None of those are things Biden could have prevented and none affect Jackson’s nomination. But sharks attack when blood is in the water; with the economic malaise hitting a pandemic-weary country, Republicans are already trying to score midterm political points by attacking Brown.
Ahead of the hearings, The Root spoke with former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who was tapped as Brown’s “sherpa”, Beltway slang for an adviser whose job is to help a nominee navigate the confirmation process. Brown provided an inside look at what he expects of the confirmation process, the role Vice President Kamala Harris played in the nomination process and why President Biden still believes in bipartisanship in the confirmation process. The interview was conducted over two days this month as Brown met with more than 40 Senators of both parties ahead of her confirmation hearings in the Senate, which begin Monday morning. It has been edited for length and clarity.
The Root: Lindsay Graham has already said that he would vote “no” on this nomination which seemed to signal that Judge Brown wouldn’t receive bipartisan support. What was your response to that?
Doug Jones: I didn’t see his full statement but I can tell you that we aren’t taking any votes for granted. The President takes the “advise and consent” role of the Senate seriously so we’re meeting with as many Senators as possible and we feel very good that she should get a lot of bipartisan support.
TR: This is cynical, but is it foolish or a miscalculation to worry about advice and consent in such a partisan political environment.
Jones: I understand what you’re saying but what you’re basically asking the President of the United States to do is ignore the Constitution, because of the politics of the day. All the Senators we’ve met with take this very seriously but that doesn’t mean everybody we’ve met with will vote for her.
TR: Do you think the historic context of this being the first Black woman nominee changes anything about the confirmation process?
Jones: I think a lot of people are looking at this nomination as an inspiration, and I think Senators will take that into account. I also think her breadth of experience is remarkable–not just her academic or judicial experience but her life experience. I don’t think that people are going to be able to shrink her record down to just a political philosophy. Every case she hears, she follows the law.
TR: How are you making the argument for Judge Brown and what does this process look like from the inside?
Jones: I’m not sure I make any argument for her. She makes her own case. It’s really the judge who is meeting with the Senators and responding to their questions and concerns. Sometimes staff will ask questions but most of the time it’s about the interaction between the Senator and the judge, and that’s all in anticipation of the hearings.
TR: Are there any specific things about her record that you’re trying to emphasize?
Jones: We don’t go in with any specific points. Every Senator looks at her qualifications in a different way and they have their own questions. One of the things that I think has been the most impressive about her background was her four years on the Sentencing Commission. She worked with some very conservative judges on the most sensitive, politically charged areas of the criminal justice system and 97 percent of the commission’s recommendations were unanimous.
I think that speaks volumes of not only her ability to work with people, but to listen and keep an open mind.
TR: With the 50-50 split in the Senate, Vice President Harris could theoretically cast a historic, tiebreaker vote. How important has the vice president been to this process?
Jones: Her voice has been extremely important throughout the process in terms of vetting as well as consulting on any issues as we move toward a confirmation hearing. She’s been extremely busy with different areas–I think she’s overseas now–but she is always, always available for consultation whether it be with the White House counsel or others involved in this process.