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Supreme Court pick Ketanji Brown Jackson wraps tense Senate questioning as confirmation path clears

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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies on her nomination to become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, during the third day of a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 23, 2022.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in a confirmation hearing Wednesday defended her record against increasingly aggressive Republican attacks that media outlets have called misleading.

Jackson, who had already spent more than 13 hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee defending her judicial career, faced intense scrutiny from GOP members during the final round of questions from lawmakers.

The exchanges grew tense at times. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at one point accused Jackson of judicial “activism” in a past ruling in an immigration case.

Graham, who repeatedly cut off Jackson’s remarks and continued questioning her well beyond his 20 allotted minutes, also relitigated Jackson’s sentencing record in child-pornography cases, a topic Republicans repeatedly returned to on the first day of questions. An agitated Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, interrupted Jackson multiple times as he asked about the topic, prompting a clash with committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., as he urged Cruz to allow the judge to answer.

GOP senators have suggested Jackson’s record shows a pattern of being too lenient in sentencing child-pornography offenders, though fact-checkers havedisputed those characterizations.

“Every person in all of these charts and documents, I sent to jail. Because I know how serious this crime is,” a visibly annoyed Jackson told Graham during an exchange about the child-porn cases.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., hammered Graham over the line of questioning in a manner rarely seen in the three days of committee hearings. He criticized his GOP colleague for “badgering” Jackson, calling the senator’s conduct “beyond the pale.”

“I’m just distressed to see this kind of a complete breakdown of what’s normally the way the Senate’s handled,” Leahy told NBC News during an early break in the proceedings.

Over long hours of grilling from Republicans, Jackson deflected a string of attacks related to her sentencing record, views on race or beliefs about transgender rights — many of which appeared designed to appeal to conservative voters. Democrats defended the appeals court judge, asking many questions that allowed Jackson to portray herself as an impartial judge or talk about her family’s experience in law enforcement and public service.

If confirmed, Jackson will become the first Black woman to sit on the top U.S. court, where members are appointed for life. The 51-year-old currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a job the Senate confirmed her to last year.

Wednesday’s hearing began with Sens. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who did not get to complete their initial 30-minute rounds of questions for Jackson the day before. All 22 members of the Judiciary committee are able to question Jackson for up to 20 minutes each in a second round.

The hearings so far do not appear to have diminished Jackson’s chances of ascending to the Supreme Court.

To join the top U.S. court, Jackson will need at least 50 votes in the evenly split Senate. Vice President Kamala Harris holds a tie-breaking vote for her fellow Democrats and the two independents who routinely vote with the party.

If there are no defectors, Democrats have the ability to confirm Jackson without any Republican support.

No Democrats so far have indicated they will vote against Jackson.

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