San Francisco Chronicle: California senator takes on Republican foes during hearing for Supreme Court nominee

By Bob Egelko

As Senate Republicans continued their swiping at Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearing Wednesday, California Sen. Alex Padilla did some swiping back.

“Some of my colleagues have attempted to disparage your judgment and character,” the Democrat said in a cordial 20-minute exchange with the federal appeals court judge, the first Black woman to be nominated to the high court, as Judiciary Committee members ended two days of questioning. “You’ve answered them fairly and thoughtfully.

“People of color often have to work twice as hard to get half the respect,” Padilla said. “If (her Republican critics) really cared about Americans’ faith in the judicial system … even if they disagreed with you on the law, you should have received bipartisan support.”

He spoke after Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had voted to confirm Jackson’s previous appointments to U.S. District Court and the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., repeatedly interrupted the nominee as she tried to answer his questions about her sentencing practices.

Graham also asked her how she would rate her religious faith, on a scale of 1 to 10, and Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., asked her to define “woman,” apparently referring to cases over sexual orientation and gender identity. Jackson declined to answer. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., berated the nominee for a three-month sentence she imposed on an 18-year-old who had pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography.

After Thursday’s testimony by the American Bar Association and other witnesses, Democratic leaders plan a Judiciary Committee vote on April 4 and a Senate confirmation vote before the next scheduled recess on April 8.

One development at the hearing Wednesday was Jackson’s statement to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that if confirmed, she would not take part in a case to be heard in the fall challenging affirmative action programs for Black and Hispanic applicants at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

Jackson, a graduate of both Harvard and its law school, is finishing a term as a member of the university’s Board of Overseers, the apparent reason for her planned recusal. It increases the likelihood that the court will rule that considering applicants’ race and ethnicity violates the rights of white and Asian-American applicants, which would overturn decisions from 2003 and 2016.

California voters banned affirmative action in a 1996 initiative, Proposition 209, which applied to state education and employment. A Supreme Court ruling could also apply to private universities.

Padilla had his own concerns, but said Jackson had satisfied them. He noted that federal immigration law refers to foreigners in the United States as “aliens,” and opponents of immigration often describe unauthorized immigrants as “illegals.”

“No person is an alien, and no human being is illegal,” he said, while noting that Jackson’s published decisions use terms such as “undocumented” and “non-citizens.”

He finished by describing conversations he had last Friday with high school students in South San Francisco who were worried about their future.

“What would you say to all those young Americans … who may doubt that they can achieve the same great heights?” Padilla asked.

In reply, Jackson recalled her own doubts during her first year at Harvard, and an encounter with another Black woman while walking on campus one evening.

The woman, whom she didn’t know, “leaned over as we crossed and said, ‘Persevere,’” Jackson said. “I would tell them to persevere.”

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