Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Tuesday stressed her “limited” role as a federal judge, describing a judicial philosophy that resonated with even some conservative legal observers.
Directly addressing concerns raised by Republicans during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Judge Brown said she approaches cases with neutrality and seeks to apply the law in the way those who wrote it intended, or what’s known as the “original public meaning.”
That is a philosophy, often labeled originalism, usually associated with conservative-leaning judges.
“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,” Judge Jackson told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
She said if that’s not enough to make a ruling, she looks to history, practice and precedent.
“I’m not importing my personal views or policy preferences. The entire exercise is about trying to understand what those who created this policy or this law intended,” she said.
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In a follow-up, she rejected labels but also rejected the idea of the Constitution as a “living” document.
“I do not believe that there is a living Constitution in the sense that it’s changing and it’s infused with my own policy perspective or the policy perspective of the day,” the judge said. “Instead, the Supreme Court has made clear when you’re interpreting the Constitution you’re looking at the text at the time of the founding, and what the meaning was.”
Republican senators had prodded Judge Jackson on her judicial philosophy, saying that her short time as a federal appeals court judge has left her with only a scant record of cases to determine how she would approach appellate law.
She does have eight years as a U.S. District Court judge, though that’s a significantly different experience than handling the sort of appeals cases that would reach the Supreme Court.
Judge Jackson delivered her opening statement for her confirmation hearing on Monday, and faces questions from senators on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Sen. Richard Durbin, the Democratic chairman of the committee, led off questions by asking the judge to address several GOP concerns that had been raised.
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Among those were her thoughts on adding more justices to the high court — a crusade of left-wing groups.
Judge Jackson demurred, saying that is the sort of question left to political debate.
“In my view, judges should not be speaking into political issues and certainly not a nominee for a position on the Supreme Court,” she said.
She was following the lead of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who during her 2020 confirmation hearing also didn’t opine on the court-expansion debate, saying it is an issue to be left to Congress.