March 22, 2022

Durbin Questions Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on her Judicial Philosophy During Second Day of her Nomination Hearing to the Supreme Court

Judge Jackson detailed her thorough decisionmaking process that takes into account constraints on judicial authority, adheres to legal precedent, and examines cases “without fear or favor”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson about her judicial philosophy on the second day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on her nomination to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Durbin asked Judge Jackson to explain her decisionmaking process on the bench. Durbin reminded his colleagues on the dais that Judge Jackson has shared her nearly 600 written judicial opinions and more than 12,000 pages from her time on the Sentencing Commission to give context to her balanced judicial decisionmaking.

“There were two issues that came up repeatedly yesterday from the other side of the aisle that I want to address at the outset. One of them was the question of judicial philosophy. No one questions either your academic, law school credentials, or your service as clerk and as federal judge, but time and again you have been asked what is your judicial philosophy?... This Committee, for the fourth time, is delving into everything you have published as a judge and even before. Would you like to comment at the outset of those who are looking for a label [on] what your position is on judicial philosophy?” Durbin asked.

Judge Jackson, who has served on the bench for nearly a decade, detailed her three-step process to judicial decisionmaking – approaching the case from a place of neutrality; examining the case’s facts and arguments from all perspectives; and interpreting and applying the law appropriately given the case’s facts.

“I have developed a methodology that I use in order to ensure that I’m ruling impartially and that I am adhering to the limits on my judicial authority. I am acutely aware that as a judge in our system, I have limited power, and I am trying in every case to stay in my lane,” said Judge Jackson.

Judge Jackson continued by explaining that, in practicing the third step of her methodology and appropriately applying the law, she carefully observes the limits of her judicial authority. Judge Jackson also reaffirmed her commitment to pre-established precedent.

“There are many constraints in our system, importantly because judges have limited authority. I am, first of all, looking at my jurisdiction…in every federal case to make sure you even have the power to hear the case…If I can get to the merits of the case, if I have jurisdiction, then I am observing the limits of my authority concerning the question. If it is a statute, for example, or a provision of the Constitution, I am looking at the text. The adherence to text is a constraint on my authority, trying to figure out what those words mean as they were intended by the people who wrote them…I am focusing on the original public meaning because I am constrained to interpret the text. Sometimes that is enough to resolve the issue in terms of the merits. Judges also look at history and practice at the time of the document was created. If it is a statute, I am looking at Congress’ purposes,” Judge Jackson said.

“I am not importing my policy preferences. The entire exercise is about trying to understand what those who created this policy or this law intended. I am also looking at precedent, which is another constraint on judicial authority. I am looking at prior cases and trying to understand what other judges have said. As a lower court judge, I am bound by the precedent. Even in the Supreme Court, if I were fortunate enough to be confirmed, there is stare decisis, which is a binding principle that the Justices look at when they are considering precedents. All of these things come into play in terms of my judicial philosophy,” Judge Jackson concluded.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.

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