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Fair Courts Update: Judge Jackson’s SCOTUS confirmation hearings begin Monday

This Fair Courts Update highlights Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Justice Clarence Thomas’s remarks on court packing, proposed changes to the judicial selection process in Kansas, and more.

Published: March 24, 2022

Senate Sched­ules Confirm­a­tion Hear­ings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jack­son

On March 14, the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee announced Judge Ketanji Brown Jack­son’s confirm­a­tion hear­ings will begin on Monday, March 21 and end on Thursday, March 24. Since her nomin­a­tion, Jack­son has been meet­ing with senat­ors from both parties, and both the White House and Senate Judi­ciary Chair Dick Durbin have said they hope to win over some Repub­lican votes.

Jack­son has been confirmed by the Senate on a bipar­tisan basis three times—­most recently last year, when she was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit with the support of three Repub­lic­ans: Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Lind­sey Graham. Collins recently met with Jack­son and called the meet­ing “lengthy and very product­ive,” while Graham declared “the radical Left has won” in response to her nomin­a­tion. Murkowski has not yet met with Jack­son, however, she said “this is a differ­ent game” than the previ­ous confirm­a­tion hear­ings.

To date, Jack­son has been endorsed by 59 former Justice Depart­ment offi­cials, 86 Repub­lican and Demo­cratic former attor­neys general, retired conser­vat­ive judges J. Michael Luttig and Thomas B. Grif­fith, and the Inter­na­tional Asso­ci­ation of Chiefs of Police, among others. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman and public defender on the Supreme Court.

Justice Clar­ence Thomas Criti­cizes Expand­ing the Court, “Cancel Culture”

Speak­ing at an event hosted by the found­a­tion of former Repub­lican U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch on March 11, Supreme Court Justice Clar­ence Thomas asser­ted that propos­als to “pack or stack” the Court would threaten the insti­tu­tion’s legit­im­acy.

At the event, Thomas also critiqued “cancel culture,” saying, “partic­u­larly in this world of cancel culture and attack, I don’t know where you’re going to learn to engage as we did when I grew up.” He contin­ued, “If you don’t learn at that level in high school, in gram­mar school, in your neigh­bor­hood, or in civic organ­iz­a­tions, then how do you have it when you’re making decisions in govern­ment, in the legis­lature, or in the courts?”

He also discussed the medi­a’s portrayal of his wife, Ginni Thomas, who has come under increased scru­tiny for her polit­ical activ­ism and work with conser­vat­ive groups that file amicus briefs in cases before the Court. While Thomas did not address the contro­versy directly, nor the calls for him to recuse himself from cases that relate to his wife’s work, he said his wife “is a good person” and called the media “the tawdry people.”

Kansas Lawmakers Advance Propos­als to Elim­in­ate Judi­cial Nomin­at­ing Commis­sion

On March 9, the Kansas Senate Commit­tee on Judi­ciary approved two proposed consti­tu­tional amend­ments that would change the way the state chooses its high court justices.

Currently, justices are nomin­ated by the state’s judi­cial nomin­at­ing commis­sion, which recom­mends three candid­ates to the governor to choose from for appoint­ment. Both amend­ments would elim­in­ate the commis­sion; however, one amend­ment would have voters elect justices in statewide partisan elec­tions, while the other would give the governor the power to directly appoint justices, subject to the state senate’s confirm­a­tion.

Kansas’s current system for choos­ing appel­late court judges was adop­ted in response to a 1956 scan­dal in which an outgo­ing governor resigned his posi­tion after losing re-elec­tion and was imme­di­ately appoin­ted to the state’s supreme court by the acting governor, accord­ing to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Repub­lican legis­lat­ors have considered similar propos­als in the past, and the propos­als considered this year are occur­ring at a time when the Kansas Supreme Court is expec­ted to hear lawsuits chal­len­ging the legal­ity of the state’s new congres­sional maps drawn by Repub­lic­ans.

Maine Governor Nomin­ates First Black Judge to State’s Highest Court

On March 7, Governor Janet Mills nomin­ated Judge Rick Lawrence to fill a vacancy on Maine’s highest court. Lawrence, who currently serves as Deputy Chief Judge of Maine’s District Courts, will replace Justice Ellen Gorman, who announced her plans to retire in Janu­ary 2021. If confirmed, Lawrence would be the first Black justice to sit on the Maine Supreme Judi­cial Court in its 202-year history, accord­ing to the Port­land Press Herald. His nomin­a­tion will need to be approved by the state legis­lature’s Joint Stand­ing Commit­tee on the Judi­ciary and the state Senate.

Bren­nan Center analysis finds that as of April 2021, Maine was one of 22 states in which no high court justices publicly identify as a person of color, includ­ing in 11 states where people of color make up at least 20 percent of the popu­la­tion. The Bren­nan Center’s Alicia Bannon spoke with the Port­land Press Herald about diversity on the court, saying, “it really builds public confid­ence in the judi­cial system, so every­body that’s step­ping through the court system sees a judi­ciary with members who reflect the diversity of all the communit­ies that are being impacted by the decisions the court makes.”