At a confirmation hearing this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia judicial nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson fielded questions about her views on how she would handle terrorist detainee cases and how she would use federal sentencing guidelines.
Jackson, vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission since early 2010, was nominated by President Barack Obama in September to fill the seat vacated by now-retired U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. If confirmed, she would fill the sole open judgeship on the court.
Jackson didn't encounter opposition during today's hearing. Even her introduction was bipartisan: she was introduced by Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who recommended Jackson to the White House, and Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), who is related to Jackson and offered his "unequivocal" support.
Before her appointment to the sentencing commission, Jackson was of counsel at Morrison & Foerster. She served as a federal public defender from 2005 to 2007 and as an assistant special counsel to the sentencing commission from 2003 to 2005.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Jackson about her views on laws surrounding detainees suspected of terrorism. She said that while she handled terrorism cases as a federal public defender, her position represented the views of her clients, and not necessarily her own. She said she hadn't looked at the laws surrounding detainee cases recently; Grassley said he might pose follow-up questions in writing.
Grassley also asked Jackson about sentencing practices in the D.C. court, saying he was under the impression that local judges were frequently issuing sentences the departed from federal guidelines. Jackson said the commission was finishing a nationwide analysis of sentencing data, but added that the commission was "concerned" about the trend of more judges issuing sentences outside of the guidelines in certain types of cases. She didn't speak specifically to the D.C. court.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked Jackson about the commission's decision in 2011 to retroactively apply reduced sentencing guidelines for cases involving crack cocaine. She said that the commission is required to consider retroactivity whenever it comes out with reduced guidelines and found that it was appropriate for those cases.
Blumenthal then asked about how Jackson would decide whether to depart from sentencing guidelines. Jackson replied that she didn't find any one factor more persuasive than another – the nature of the offense or a defendants' history, for instance – and would individually evaluate each case.
The committee also heard testimony today from Shelly Dick, a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana; Andrew Gordon, a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada; and Beverly O'Connell, a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
The four candidates will have to be re-nominated if they’re not confirmed before the end of the year. Check out The National Law Journal’s latest coverage of the judicial confirmation backlog in Congress here.
National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.