Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 23, 2022.
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 23, 2022.

“You faced insults here that were shocking to me. Well, actually, not shocking. But you are here because of that kind of love, and nobody is taking this away from you. …  It is not going to stop. They are going to accuse you of this and that. In honor of the person who shares your birthday, you might be called a communist. But don’t worry, my sister. Don’t worry. God has gotten you. How do I know that? Because you are here, and I know what it has taken for you to sit in that seat.” — Sen. Cory Booker

As Lee Atwater famously described the evolution of race-baiting in politics, “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N–ger, n–ger, n–ger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘n–ger’ — that backfires. … So, you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff …”

In 1966, avowed segregationist Sen. James Eastland of Mississippi did not mention race during confirmation hearings for Constance Baker Motley the first African-American woman appointed to the federal judiciary. Instead, he baselessly called her a communist.

Now, as Ketanji Brown Jackson nears confirmation as the nation’s first Black woman Supreme Court justice, “critical race theory,” “The 1619 Project,” and “soft on crime” are the new “forced busing” and “state’s rights.”

These racist tactics will be no more successful in derailing Jackson’s nomination than they were in 1966. But the senators who engaged in them have stained their legacy forever, all for the sake of courting the votes of an extremist fringe.

For no discernible reason other than to draw attention to Jackson’s race, Sen. Ted Cruz displayed Ashley Lukashevsky’s illustrations from Ibram X. Kendi’s children’s book “Anti-Racist Baby” and — absurdly twisting the book’s premise — asked Jackson if she believes babies are born racist.

The Senate has confirmed more than 100 federal judges since the publication of “Anti-Racist Baby,” including Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and Cruz apparently did not see fit to ask any of them about it. As legal commentator Elie Mystal wrote, “Kendi’s Black, and Jackson’s Black, so for some reason it’s okay to ask Jackson to answer for the ideas in Kendi’s book.”

Cruz further cast aspersions on Jackson’s patriotism, invoking a favorite hobgoblin of racial provocateurs, The 1619 Project. Cruz claimed to be “surprised” by Jackson’s reference in a speech to the New York Times’ project, developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Cruz bragged about his racist line of questioning in a news release.

Sens. Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley falsely insinuated that Jackson’s sentencing of child sex offenders was lenient, even though the sentences were “entirely consistent” with those of other judges, according to a group of retired federal judges.

“The charge that Jackson sentenced child sex offenders to less time in certain cases than prosecutors recommended is particularly offensive, since it reflects a long-standing pattern in American history of attempting to pillory Black women as being incapable of living up to virtuous standards of womanhood,” historian Peniel E. Joseph wrote for CNN.

The specific sentences to which Cotton referred reflected changes in the law effected by The First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill signed under the previous administration.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who voted last year to confirm Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, also questioned her sentencing of sex offenders, repeatedly interrupting her as she tried to answer.

An analysis of Supreme Court confirmation hearings found that women and nominees of color are interrupted significantly more often than white men.

“Speech interruptions are often intrusive attempts to exercise conversational control that place the interrupter in a dominant position, relative to the speaker,” the authors of the study wrote. “By interrupting a nominee, a senator can attempt to paint the nominee as less than forthcoming,”

Modern-day Senate confirmation hearings generally reveal far more about the senators doing the questioning than the nominees whose qualifications the hearings purport to examine. But what was revealed about Justice Jackson was her extraordinary grace under pressure, her eloquence and her determination to assume her place on the nation’s highest bench, as she undoubtedly will.

Morial is president/CEO of the National Urban League.

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