A couple of days into her Supreme Court nomination confirmation hearings, Ketanji Brown Jackson doesn’t appear to have many, or any, friends on the Republican side of the aisle. The opposition comes in different flavors. Some senators, like Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz, all have higher political aspirations in Republican politics. Sens. Ben Sasse and Mike Lee tend toward a more academic, law school–debate approach to questioning liberal judicial philosophy.
And then there’s Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose criticism comes from a position of undisguised grievance and gut rage.
In both of his operatic questionings of Jackson, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Graham began with complaints about Democratic treatment of past Republican judicial nominees and concluded with a giddy plea for a different class of criminal to be thrown in jail forever. Sometimes these fits were directed toward Jackson. Other times they were directed toward the committee chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, who after decades of knowing Graham still can’t figure out what to do about him. And at all times, they were directed toward a rolling camera.
On Tuesday, Graham opened his time with a series of questions peppering Jackson about her religion, her Christian denomination, how often she attends services, and “on a scale of 1–10, how faithful would you say you are in terms of religion?” He wasn’t looking for answers. He was winding up to make a point about how Democrats allegedly disgraced themselves in their probing of Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s Catholicism during her judicial confirmation hearings.
“Just imagine what would happen if people on late-night television called you an ‘effing nut speaking in tongues,’ ” he said to Jackson, “because you’ve practiced the Catholic faith in a way they couldn’t relate to or found uncomfortable.” (This was a reference to noted Democratic senator, Bill Maher.) Graham had used his opening remarks on Monday, similarly, to bring up his fury over the 2018 confirmation hearings of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Graham’s substantive questioning on Tuesday related to Jackson’s work representing defendants at Guantánamo Bay and statements she made on behalf of her clients. He didn’t love what she did, or what amicus briefs she drafted. But the grievance underlying it all was a 20-year irritation with Democrats and the left who want to close the war on terror detention facility.
“As long as they’re dangerous, I hope they all die in jail if they’re going to go back and kill Americans,” Graham said, after his time had expired. “It won’t bother me one bit if 39 of ‘em die in prison. That’s the better outcome to lettin’ ‘em go. And if it costs $500 million to keep ‘em in jail, keep ‘em in jail, because they’re going to go back to the fight.”
“Look at the frickin’ Afghan government!” he continued.
On Wednesday, Graham opened by contrasting Jackson’s treatment as a groundbreaking, minority nominee to the filibusters to which Democrats subjected judicial nominees Janice Rogers Brown and Miguel Estrada during the George W. Bush administration.
“To my Democratic colleagues, if you’re a person of color, a woman, supported by liberals, it’s pretty easy sailing,” he said. “But if you’re Miguel Estrada, Janice Rogers Brown, Amy Coney Barrett, on and on and on, your life gets turned upside down.”
Jackson has spent the past couple of days trying to maintain her cool as the Republican Party has coalesced around the attack that she has a soft spot for child pornographers. She might, then, take issue with the premise that her life hasn’t been turned upside down, or that it’s been “pretty easy sailing.”
Graham, on Tuesday, jumped into the fray over this, asking why she didn’t maximize sentences for certain possessors of child pornography and repeatedly interrupting her attempts to answer. The exchange lasted well beyond Graham’s allotted time, and Durbin was incapable of cutting Graham off despite repeated efforts.
“Good, good!” Graham interrupted Jackson, when she was explaining how with the internet, someone looking at child pornography for 15 minutes could be looking at 50 years of jail time under dated guidelines. “I hope you are! I hope you go to jail for 50 years if you’re on the internet trawling for images of children in sexual exploitation,” he said. “See, you don’t think that’s a bad thing, I think that’s a horrible thing.”
And he tried, for good measure, to get Jackson to talk about how unfair Democrats’ treatment of Brett Kavanaugh was.
Where’s all this fire and brimstone coming from? Graham, just last year, was one of the few Republicans who voted to confirm Jackson to the federal appellate bench. It’s fair to believe that a nominee’s record should be held to higher scrutiny when they’re appointed to the Supreme Court. But a nominee’s sentencing record as a trial judge doesn’t go from confirmation-worthy to dangerously radical overnight.
What did change with this Jackson appointment, though, is that President Joe Biden selected her instead of the candidate for whom Graham was publicly pushing. He remains aggrieved about that, too.
After Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement, Graham recommended South Carolina Judge J. Michelle Childs for the job, whom he described as an “awesome” person, and whom he liked for her public law school background. (This was around the time that Graham was claiming men in pickup trucks had chatted him up at the dump about how they can’t stand the Harvard-Yale chokehold over the Supreme Court.) Childs, who had an even more powerful ally in House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, ultimately didn’t get the nod, and her advocates claim she was unfairly smeared by the left.
In his Tuesday questioning, Graham also brought up the campaign against Childs, observing that the “attacks from the left against Judge Childs”—whom he said would’ve gotten more than 60 votes—”was really pretty vicious.”
“If that’s the way the game’s going to be played,” he said, “then I’ll have a response.”
He didn’t get the nominee he wanted and felt the left was “vicious” in the way it went about criticizing Childs’ record. He, like many Republicans, is still seething over Democrats’ treatment of Republican judicial nominees in the mid-2000s and during the Trump years. His response, then, has been to pay the pain forward.