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Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson Wraps Tense Two Days of Senate Questioning as Confirmation Path Clears

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  • Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson answered senators' final round of questions during the third day of her confirmation hearings.
  • President Joe Biden's first Supreme Court nominee had already spent more than 13 hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee defending her judicial career and qualifications for the high court.
  • If confirmed, the 51-year-old federal judge will become the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson appeared to remain on the path to confirmation after weathering aggressive questions from Republicans on Wednesday during an often-tense Senate hearing.

"She'll be confirmed," Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and president pro tempore of the Senate, told reporters during an early break in the proceedings.

The hearing marked Jackson's final appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee after three straight days, including a marathon 13-hour grilling from senators on Tuesday.

The panel will hold another session Thursday to hear from additional witnesses, and then vote on whether to send Jackson's nomination to the full Senate for a final vote.

If confirmed, the 51-year-old federal judge will become the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court, where members are appointed for life. She currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a job the Senate confirmed her to last year.

Jackson, President Joe Biden's first high-court nominee, can win confirmation with the support of merely 50 senators in the evenly split chamber, where Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote. No Democrats so far have indicated they will vote against Jackson.

Jackson's Democratic supporters, as well as some Republican lawmakers, suggested during the hearings that her performance before the Senate has not diminished her chances of confirmation.

"This is very likely the last job interview you'll ever have," Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., told Jackson on Tuesday.

During Wednesday's more than 10-hour hearing, Jackson faced intense scrutiny from many Republicans, and a handful of exchanges grew tense. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., at one point accused Jackson of judicial "activism" in a past ruling in an immigration case.

Graham, who repeatedly cut off Jackson's remarks and questioned her well beyond his 20 allotted minutes, also relitigated Jackson's sentencing record in child-pornography cases, a topic Republicans repeatedly returned to during the two days of questioning. An agitated Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, interrupted Jackson multiple times as he asked about the topic, prompting a clash with committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., as he urged Cruz to allow the judge to answer.

GOP senators have suggested Jackson's record shows a pattern of being too lenient in sentencing child-pornography offenders, though fact-checkers have disputed those characterizations.

"Every person in all of these charts and documents, I sent to jail. Because I know how serious this crime is," a visibly annoyed Jackson told Graham during an exchange about the cases.

Leahy hammered Graham over the line of questioning in a manner rarely seen in the three days of committee hearings. He criticized his GOP colleague for "badgering" Jackson, calling the senator's conduct "beyond the pale."

"I'm just distressed to see this kind of a complete breakdown of what's normally the way the Senate's handled," Leahy told NBC News during an early break in the proceedings.

Jackson maintained a deliberate speaking pace throughout both days of hearings, and rarely raised her voice even during the most hostile exchanges. But she did show increasing hints of exasperation as Republicans continued to press her on her child-porn sentencing record.

Under questioning from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., on the topic, Jackson said she had already given the answers he sought regarding her decisions, telling him repeatedly: "I'll stand on my answer."

And when Tom Cotton, R-Ark., asked Jackson if she regretted one such sentencing decision, the judge replied: "What I regret is that in a hearing about my qualifications … we've spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences."

Over long hours of questioning, Jackson defended herself against a string of criticisms related to her record, while resisting calls to weigh in on hot-button social issues. Many of those topics appeared designed to appeal to conservative voters, and some bore no clear connection to Jackson's record.

Cruz on Tuesday pressed Jackson about critical race theory, and in Wednesday's hearing asked the judge about transgender issues. Sasse asked Jackson about cancel culture.

Democrats defended the appeals court judge, asking many questions that allowed Jackson to portray herself as an impartial judge or talk about her family's experience in law enforcement and public service.

Some Democratic members also snapped at their GOP counterparts. "There's no point in responding," Durbin told Jackson at one point after Cruz continued asking questions after his time had elapsed.

Jackson had a champion in Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat and one of three sitting Black U.S. senators. Over the three hearing days, Booker lauded Jackson for reaching the heights of the U.S. judiciary as both a Black woman and working mother – at times bringing the judge to the point of tears in front of the Senate panel.

The senator on Wednesday said he would not let Jackson's GOP detractors steal the "joy" he and other Black Americans felt to see her so close to joining the Supreme Court.

"Today, you're my star. You're my harbinger of hope. … And when that final vote happens, and you ascend onto the highest court in the land, I am going to rejoice. And I'm going to tell you right now, the greatest country in the world, the United States of America, will be better because of you," Booker said.

As Booker's speech gave way to a break in proceedings, Jackson reportedly left the room smiling and still sniffling after wiping away tears.

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