6 Republicans who used the Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings to throw out the wildest right-wing memes

A gang of right-wing senators devolved the Supreme Court proceedings into an abject and pusillanimous circus

By Jack Ahern

Published March 25, 2022 8:08PM (EDT)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) holds up a book on antiracism as he questions U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, March 22, 2022 in Washington, DC. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s pick to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, would become the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court if confirmed. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) holds up a book on antiracism as he questions U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, March 22, 2022 in Washington, DC. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s pick to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, would become the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court if confirmed. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Going into this week's Senate confirmation hearing of Ketanji Brown Jackson for a Supreme Court seat, one might have assumed that the GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee would act, well, poorly. Josh Hawley, for one, had telegraphed as soon as March 16th that he would seek to portray the candidate as "soft" on criminals. This seemed to largely stem from the fact that Jackson was once a public defender, a role that is a linchpin of our adversarial justice system. What was increasingly clear once Ketanji Brown Jackson sat down for her official confirmation hearing, however, was that a gang of wing-nut senators (Hawley included) would seek to devolve the proceedings into an abject and pusillanimous circus. Here is a grim round-up of some of their quite unbelievable--and frequently bigoted--buffoonery: 

Marsha Blackburn

Marsha BlackburnSen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., listens to senators opening statements during the confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Bidens nominee for Associate Justice to the Supreme Court, on Monday, March 21, 2022. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Blackburn, the senior senator from Tennessee, decided that instead of exploring the nuances of law, she'd rather make a few red-meat sops to her base by pursuing the "culture-war" path (i.e. rank transphobia).

On Tuesday, she went out of her way to ask Jackson the now infamously irrelevant question: "Can you provide a definition of the word 'woman'?"

RELATED: Republicans get the science behind sexual difference wrong during Supreme Court nominee hearing

Jackson's sensible retort was that she wasn't a biologist, which unfortunately led to Blackburn rambling further about transgender competitors in college sports as well as a disquisition about the vaporous evils of progressive education. She also went on a bizarre screed about a brief Jackson co-authored at a private law firm twenty years ago, wherein pro-life protestors in a "buffer zone" outside of Massachusetts abortion clinic were described as "hostile" and "noisy." Blackburn wanted to know if Jackson would describe her that way if, say, they ran into each other at church. Jackson noted she wouldn't, although it would not necessarily be an off-base judgment. 

Ted Cruz

Ted CruzSen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) holds up a book on antiracism as he questions U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, March 22, 2022 in Washington, DC. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden's pick to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, would become the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court if confirmed. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)Where to begin?

Amusingly, Ibram X. Kendi's children's book Antiracist Baby has shot to the top of bestseller charts after Cruz made a point of blowing up individual pages as a visual aid for his questioning time.

"Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racist?" was his big moment to rail on critical race theory, but it seemed as though what people (on the other side of the aisle, at least) could agree on was that Cruz was losing his mind. The stated impetus of this line of questioning was that Jackson serves on the board of Georgetown Day School in Washington D.C., a school that includes the book on its curriculum. Cruz seemed to forget, conveniently or otherwise, that his own children attend a school with a similar mission.

This, amazingly, wasn't all. He also took the time to dismiss Christine Blasey Ford's credible accusations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh as simply the result of Kavanaugh's supposedly excusable "teenage dating habits"--and made a head-scratching digression about whether it would be possible for him "to identify as an Asian man." This ostensibly had to do with affirmative action, somehow?

Josh Hawley

Josh HawleySen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) holds up his mobile phone as he questions U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2022 in Washington, DC. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden's pick to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, would become the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court if confirmed. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)QAnon subscribers might have made it to the big stage.

Missouri Republican Josh Hawley's assertion that Jackson was "soft" on sex offenders started early, where he took to Twitter to preview his line of attack (never mind that Jackson was quick to note that she had, indeed, sent sex offenders to prison). His quick-to-collapse reasoning behind such claims were partly related to Jackson's time on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where she participated in a 2012 report that recommended lowering mandatory minimums for two types of child-porn offenses. But she was joined in this by Dabney Freidrich, a Trump appointee and U.S. District Court judge that received an unanimous vote on his nomination by Senate Republicans. In other words, Hawley unsurprisingly manufactured a smear and elided key details. He's also, wouldn't you know it, a hypocrite on this very issue.

Tom Cotton

Tom CottonSen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) questions U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, March 22, 2022 in Washington, DC. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden's pick to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, would become the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court if confirmed. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Tom Cotton, pal of convicted sex offender Josh Duggar, picked up the "tough on crime" baton and ran with it into the middle of nowhere. Jackson was, he said, "sympathetic" to a "drug fentanyl kingpin" and needed to increase her sentences across the board. Appealing to a conspiratorial mindset, he offered that "a bunch of elite lawyers – whether they're judges or federal prosecutors or public defenders or law professors – think that sentences for child pornography are too harsh. I don't, and I bet a lot of normal Americans don't either." Again, Jackson has sent sex offenders to prison. He was lost in his own weeds. 

Lindsey Graham 

Lindsey GrahamSen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) questions U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2022 in Washington, DC. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden's pick to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, would become the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court if confirmed. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)We all know about Lindsey Graham's antics this week by now. His vexing equivalent to Cruz's thought experiment about being Asian was a request that Jackson rank her faith on a scale of 1 to 10, as well as wondering if she could fairly judge a Catholic. The judge appeared distinctly confused, and Graham's smugness was rather off-putting considering how much he was pushing a theocratic angle in the guise of condemning religious discrimination.

On top of this, he had plenty to say about Jackson's phantasmagoric leniency towards sex offenders; the irony of this was stunning, given his grievance-laden ranting about what he perceived as mistreatment of Brett Kavanaugh. As Amanda Marcotte wrote for Salon, Graham gave a spirited audition for "Real Housewives" by harrumphing out of the room more than once. 

Mike Braun 

Mike BraunSen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., attends the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee markup on the PREVENT Pandemics Act in Dirksen Building on Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)You might not be used to seeing Mike Braun's name in the media regularly, but he made an absolutely jaw-dropping entrance into the public consciousness this week by saying that interracial marriage should've been left to the states and was the result of overzealous activism. He elaborated that Jackson struck him as supporting said activism. White supremacy was undergirding each and every one of these senator's questions, far exceeding the level of mere dog-whistles, and Braun's remarks were profoundly unsettling in their implications and connections to wider right-wing Supreme Court hobby horses. Braun later made a non-apology.


Jack Ahern

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Blackburn Braun Cotton Cruz Gop Graham Hawley Hearings Kbj