There were two positive aspects to Monday morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to advance the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to a floor vote. The first and most important was that the judge did not have to attend. The second was that virtually all of the screaming from last month’s confirmation hearings had stopped. Senate Republicans, well aware of how poorly the howling and browbeating of the witness had gone over in the polling that took place last week—polling that established Jackson as possibly the most popular Supreme Court nominee in history—seem to have decided that to persist in shouting and threats may be counter-productive.
A Quinnipiac poll released last week showed that more than half (52 percent) of respondents disapproved of how Republican senators had handled the Jackson hearings. What that meant for Monday’s procedure was that we had all the same talking points, but with only about 10 percent of the umbrage. Looking around the chamber, all that was left was tasteless, lowfat, synthetic umbrage that could barely hold its shape. Unintentionally, Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana hit on the perfect metaphor for the state of the GOP attacks on Judge Jackson when he argued that Jackson’s supposedly absent judicial philosophy is right there in her judicial action and “everything else is just cottage cheese.” (Kennedy’s cottage-cheesy point seems to be that he doesn’t like her action, or her philosophy.)
Or put another way by Sen. Cory Booker from the Democratic side of the aisle: Take away the fury and the outrage and all you really have left is Festivus, a holiday of invented grievance. What was left after toning down all the cooked up indignation over all the imagined judicial solicitude for child sex offenders? Some rewarmed grievance over the initially failed appellate nomination of Black conservative Judge Janice Rogers Brown, exhumed from 2003, which seemingly blazes hotter in the blood of Sens. Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz than it did even 20 years ago. After Democrats blocked Rogers Brown’s nomination in 2003, George W. Bush re-nominated her in 2005 and she was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, but never nominated to the Supreme Court, as Cruz and Graham kept implying could have happened were it not for those nefarious Democrats, despite five openings for a pair of Republican presidents. (A viral piece of misinformation currently claims Brown was in fact nominated to the Supreme Court, roiling the GOP base by stretching the invented grievance far beyond any semblance of truth.) In the GOP telling Monday, Brown was evidently the last Black woman in modern history qualified to sit on a federal appeals court, as Donald Trump failed to place a single Black woman on the courts of appeals or seat her at the Supreme Court.
Between this, and the never-quite coherent claims about Judge Jackson’s alleged love for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, and her allegedly elaborate plans for court expansion (that also don’t exist), Republicans lacked substance to the point that they dipped back into some of their cherrypicked, fake QAnon child sex predator claims. Those smears have been debunked by everyone ranging from the leaders of the conservative legal movement and the American Bar Association, to policing groups and the Republicans’ own hearing expert on child sex trafficking. What was left after all that supposed heat went missing was just some weird, defrosted Pizzagate.
So, what was the point of all this in the end? It had nothing to do with Judge Jackson, who will be confirmed, and also nothing to do with the Supreme Court that will still have a 6–3 supermajority when she is confirmed, and nothing to do with the historic nature of her ascension to the nation’s highest court. These hearings were all just curdled politics, performed in advance of the upcoming elections. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got his opportunity to posture for the midterms with a message that Democrats are soft on crime, a tactic almost as retro as whining about Janice Rogers Brown. The Republican game plan, such as it was, has been part and parcel of a larger moral panic about Democrats who aren’t just soft on child predation, but who actually support the “grooming” of children to precisely those ends. This too, had nothing to do with Judge Jackson, who won’t be sentencing child sex offenders at the Supreme Court, and everything to do with exploiting a dangerous belief among millions of Americans, that child predation and child trafficking are a vast, government-sanctioned, media obscured crisis, and that Democrats are either complicit, or in many cases active participants. It’s QAnon. It’s Pizzagate. It’s blood libel. Perhaps the more appropriate metaphor for these hearings than cottage cheese, is Richard Nixon’s infamous daily breakfast of cottage cheese dampened with treacly ketchup. Either way, this is the Republican approach to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2022.
If all this was wholly separate from Judge Jackson, it was also laying the groundwork for Graham to make clear that when the GOP regains control of the Senate, “dangerous” nominees like Judge Jackson won’t get hearings. The GOP blockade of Merrick Garland in 2016 and subsequent forcing through of Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 should have made that very clear to us already, but now it’s apparently official.
In the end, was it strange to definitively establish that the party so thoroughly obsessed with vulnerable children and families that they couldn’t stop congratulating Judge Jackson on her own children and family—even as they intimated or outright stated that child sex predators flourish in her courtroom—have no agendas nor ideas beyond the stale stilton of QAnon? No. This is, after all, the party that has lost on the polling, lost on the messaging, and will lose on the nomination itself, and thinks it can still win on the fetid child sex abuse smear. Their bet and hope, in so doing, is that they win everything in the midterms and beyond, cottage cheese and ketchup forevermore.