Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on her nomination to be an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 23, 2022.
More than 50 civil society organizations on Friday accused Republican senators of engaging in “baseless and harmful attacks” on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings last week.
In a letter taking aim at — but not naming — GOP senators including Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), and Tom Cotton (Ark.) who questioned the nominee’s assigned public defense advocacy on behalf of Guantánamo Bay detainees, the 56 groups said that “attacks made on Judge Jackson’s service as a federal public defender and the clients she vigorously represented are spurious and undermine one of the central tenets of our democracy.”
“As Judge Jackson noted at the hearing, ‘federal public defenders don’t get to pick their clients,’” the organizations wrote. “‘They have to represent whoever comes in and it’s a service. That’s what you do as a federal public defender: You are standing up for the constitutional value of representation.’”
The letter continued:
The right to counsel is one of our nation’s most bedrock principles, helping to fulfill the constitutional promise of a fair trial and the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel. The Supreme Court has reinforced the right to counsel, considering it a ‘fundamental right essential to a fair trial.’
Thus, the work of public defenders and criminal defense lawyers is critical. Those who enter public service as public defenders and criminal defense lawyers—like Judge Jackson and so many others—should be commended, not maligned.
The letter also addressed the Republican committee members’ incessant grilling of Jackson over her sentencing record in child pornography cases.
“As those who have closely studied this issue explain, Judge Jackson’s sentences were well within the range of her peers,” the groups wrote. “The 2021 U.S. Sentencing Commission report noted that less than 30% of people convicted of nonproduction child sexual abuse material offenses received a sentence within the guideline range. Such discrepancies were also described to Congress in a 2012 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. In these reports, the commission recommended Congress change the guidelines, yet… Congress has not implemented the commission’s statutory or guideline recommendations.”
“It is within Congress’ authority, not the courts’, to update sentencing guidelines,” the letter stressed.
The groups contended that “the attacks on Judge Jackson’s record grossly mischaracterize her work and threaten the ideals of our democracy.”
“Despite these inappropriate and knowingly misleading attacks,” the signers said, “Judge Jackson showed a poised and patient judicial temperament, reminding senators that constitutional protections are not privileges reserved for a select few, but rights afforded to us all. This is a much-needed perspective on our highest court.”