Republicans’ Attack Plan for the Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearings

Mitch McConnell and Ketanji Brown Jackson, looking friendly. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Republicans must have done some focus-group work while preparing for their campaign against the Supreme Court confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson. The minute Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement became known, Joe Biden’s campaign promise to put the first Black woman on the Supreme Court drew a great deal of GOP scorn with much talk about “affirmative action” and “wokeness” as well as snide suggestions that a truly qualified justice wouldn’t need an identity-based advantage.

It got pretty offensive. So once Jackson’s nomination was announced and formalized, Republicans led by Senator Mitch McConnell came up with a new strategy of attacking her confirmation without direct and personal nastiness, as the Los Angeles Times explained:

In statements and Senate floor remarks since President Biden announced his intent to nominate Jackson to succeed retiring Justice Stephen G. Breyer last month, McConnell (R-Ky.) has signaled he is not going to try to bludgeon Jackson’s character or experience ahead of her confirmation hearings, which are set to begin March 21.

Instead, he is using the nomination as an opportunity to bash liberal activists championing her cause.

“I intend to explore why groups that are waging political war against the court as an institution decided Judge Jackson was their special favorite,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

There appear to be two rationales for this approach other than the fear of looking racist or sexist, charges to which the GOP so often exposes itself. First, Republicans plan to contrast their relative civility to the “personal” attacks Democrats launched against Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 (it’s kind of hard not to be personal when the nominee is accused of sexual assault, but whatever). And second, they understand that, unlike Democrats in 2018, they have no realistic chance of winning a confirmation fight. So they will use this opportunity to reinforce their more general message that Democrats are wild socialistic radicals with sinister anti-American motives. If that happens to create the impression that the future Justice Jackson is a puppet of said socialist radicals, that will feed the GOP’s base’s desire to smite her hip and thigh without being “personal.”

Another factor leading to a less savage anti-Jackson message might be the fact that Republicans are playing with house money: Their appointees control the Court by a six-to-three margin, and Jackson is replacing another Democratic-appointed justice. As Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse told Politico, “At the end of the day, it’s six-three before, six-three after.” And in the midst of what looks to be an aggressively conservative, even counterrevolutionary Supreme Court session, it would be unseemly for the GOP to complain too much about one Democratic appointment following three in a row for their team. Per Politico:

“While you’ve got your gang in the house basically shoving the loot out the window, why would you want to kick up the ruckus on the front lawn?” Whitehouse said, referring to the high court’s conservatives. “I do think they’ll be using it to leverage political messages for November more than attacking her specifically.”

Indeed, if Republicans win the Senate in November, they will be in a position to come out overtly ranting and snarling if Biden gets another Supreme Court opening in the second half of this presidential term.

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The GOP Attack Plan for the Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearings