Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tried to make fireworks on Tuesday during the second day of the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing for President Joe Biden's nominee to the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson, when he trashed Jackson's previous defense of detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba and then stormed out of the room in a move the committee's chair, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), called a play for media attention.
According to CNN reporter Manu Raju, Durbin said, "Lindsey knows how to get on CNN."
Jackson was a defense attorney for detainees at the Guantanamo prison both as a public defender and later in private practice. She has defended her role as a criminal defense attorney, including in an exchange at Tuesday's hearing.
Graham said: "I'm suggesting the system has failed miserably, and advocates to change the system — like she was advocating — would destroy our ability to protect this country. We're at war, not fighting a crime. This is not some passage-of-time event. As long as they are dangerous, I hope they all die in jail if they're gonna go back and kill Americans."
"Federal public defenders do not get to pick their clients," Jackson said during a round of questioning by Durbin. "Under our Constitution [they] are entitled to representation. They are entitled to be treated fairly. That's what makes our system the best in the world. ... That's what makes us exemplary."
It's unclear why all of a sudden Graham thinks Jackson's record is so concerning, given that he voted to confirm her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in July 2021.
What's more, Jackson had defended Guantánamo Bay detainees as early as 2005, long before Graham voted to confirm her to the federal bench.
Civil rights groups have slammed the Guantanamo Bay military prison, which houses prisoners who have been detained for years without being charged with a crime or sitting for a trial. The ACLU said in January, "Around the world, Guantánamo is a symbol of racial and religious injustice, abuse, and disregard for the rule of law. ... The prisoners at Guantanamo — and indeed our nation — have lived with the legal and moral stain that the prison represents for far too long. We can't look away from what our country has done. We need to face it and shut it down."
The GOP, for its part, is putting up an attempt to block Jackson's nomination by painting her as soft on crime, in part based on her record of defending Guantánamo Bay prisoners.
And legal scholars have defended Jackson for representing those charged with crimes and pointed out that legal representation is a right guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution.
"The American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams's representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre. People come to the bench with a diverse array of prior private clients; that is one of the strengths of the American judiciary," Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote in a Lawfare blog post about Jackson published on March 20.
If no members of the Democratic majority vote against her nomination, Jackson is likely to be confirmed, as nominations to the Supreme Court now require only a simple majority vote of the Senate.
It's unclear whether any Republicans will vote for her.
Graham is one of just three GOP senators who voted to confirm Jackson to her position on the U.S. Court of Appeals. The other two were Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Reprinted with permission from American Independent