By Joan Biskupic, CNN legal analyst and Supreme Court biographer
Republican grievances run deep.
On the first day of hearings for President Joe Biden’s Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, GOP senators went beyond complaints about hearings for Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Amy Coney Barrett in 2020. They have unearthed the hearings of Robert Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991.
It’s a well-known adage that every Supreme Court nomination picks up where the last one left off — complete with all the partisan grudges and the sense of clawback. But Jackson’s hearings were clouded Monday by a long list of GOP grievances related to past appointments.
Leading Republicans think some candidates and their supporters have been wronged, and they can’t close the book on that sense of injustice. The substantive investigation into Jackson’s case begins Tuesday, and as Republicans hinted at their investigative leads on Monday, including in regards to his record on criminal defense issues, they made it clear that the nomination scars persist.
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The reminder of past trials can also serve to preempt critics and blunt any claims that they are, in fact, smearing it, as they believe past nominees were.
“No one will ask you with mock severity, ‘Do you like beer?’ Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, said Monday, referring to questioning after Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party when they were both teenagers in the suburb of Washington, DC. Kavanaugh flatly denied the charges.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham also referenced Kavanaugh’s hearings, and he and Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn scoffed at the scrutiny that they suggested he linked to religious views of Barrett.
Cruz blamed Democrats for the pattern of politically charged hearings. He referred to a commentator who insisted that both sides tried to “smear” the candidates for the highest court in the United States.
“I was forced to laugh out loud and say, ‘Look, I understand this is a really good talking point. It turns out that’s not true,” Cruz recalls. “It’s just one side of the aisle, the Democratic aisle, that went so far into the gutter with Judge Robert Bork that they invented a new verb, ‘to Bork’ someone.”
Yet neither Cruz nor his GOP colleagues mentioned the fate of former U.S. appellate judge Merrick Garland, whom the Republican-controlled Senate has refused to consider in any way — no hearings, no vote – in 2016 for a vacancy after the death of Judge Antonin Scalia. Garland, then a pick of President Barack Obama, is now attorney general, appointed last year by Biden.
The first day of confirmation hearings provided nearly four hours of opening statements from senators before 12 minutes of remarks from Jackson, the first black woman appointed to the High Court. She spoke in personal terms about her faith and her family, but she also positioned herself within the larger framework of American civil rights. She was born as a result of the rights revolution that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. She said her parents, “who had done direct experience of legal racial segregation”, were newly empowered by the protections and freedoms these laws offered.
Bork’s battle has been a GOP touchstone for decades because of the vigor with which Democrats who controlled the Senate have attacked the late U.S. appellate judge’s narrow views on constitutional rights spanning privacy and justice. equal protection.
“Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back alleys for abortions, black people would sit at segregated food counters, rogue police could kick down citizens’ doors in nighttime raids,” said the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. .
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell memorably spoke out in 1987 to protest Senate action against Bork and has raised it in nomination battles ever since. But Bork had hearings and a floor vote, which McConnell did not allow Garland. Bork was beaten 58-42.
Four years after Bork, Thomas spoke out about Senate Judiciary Committee hearings that allowed Anita Hill to accuse him of sexual harassment during their years working together.
“It’s a circus,” Thomas said, denying the claims. “It is a national disgrace. And from my perspective as a black American, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a high-tech lynching for arrogant black people who in no way deign to think for themselves. The Senate confirmed it 52-48.
Jackson’s hearings “will not be a circus,” Graham told the contestant Monday. Even as he and his fellow senators recounted past ordeals, Graham said the candidate could emerge unscathed, a “beneficiary” of sorts of previous battles.
And to fellow Democrats, Graham said, “Most of us couldn’t go back to our offices during Kavanaugh without getting spat on.” Hope this doesn’t happen to you all. I don’t think that will be the case.
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