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D.C. Memo: Disingenuous SCOTUS questioning mars historic nomination

The District may be beautiful this week, but politics are still ugly — in Washington this week, we’ve got SCOTUS hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, good news for the GOP and the return of the earmark.

photo of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson underwent a marathon of hearings this week to examine her nomination to the Supreme Court.
REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me actually participating in a super touristy activity: going to see the cherry blossoms! According to people who know about these things, the famous cherry trees in the District officially reached “peak bloom” on Monday, meaning that the Tidal Basin is surrounded by beautiful pink and white trees. It’s truly so beautiful that I am resigning myself to navigating through hordes of tourists to take a long walk around the Basin to get my yearly photo (and take my puppy’s first cherry blossom photo, of course). The District may be beautiful this week, but politics are still ugly — in Washington this week, we’ve got SCOTUS hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, good news for the GOP and the return of the earmark.

The Republican strategy at the SCOTUS hearings

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson underwent a marathon of hearings this week to examine her nomination to the Supreme Court. She took questions from senators on both sides of the aisle, with some … interesting lines of questioning from Republicans.

On Tuesday, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley (R ) accused Jackson of being too lenient in sentencing sexual offenders, specifically regarding child pornography. 

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From WaPo: During his line of questioning, Hawley — one of several Republicans on the committee who are viewed as having presidential ambitions — focused primarily on the 2013 case of Wesley Hawkins to challenge Jackson’s judgment in sentencing child-pornography defendants.

In June of that year, authorities had seized a laptop containing more than a dozen videos depicting graphic imagery of several young victims from Hawkins’s home. Hawkins agreed to a plea deal.

Under federal guidelines, the recent high school graduate faced 97 to 121 months in prison. Prosecutors, however, sought a fraction of that — 24 months. Jackson sentenced the 19-year-old to three months, followed by 73 months of supervised release.

Jackson offered a fiery response to Hawley’s accusations, saying that judges are constrained by sentencing guidelines that Congress defines, and that those guidelines direct judges to create a sentence that is “sufficient but not greater than necessary to promote the purposes of punishment.

“And then I impose a significant sentence and all of the additional restraints that are available in the law. These people are looking at 20, 30, 40 years of supervision. They can’t use their computers in a normal way for decades,” Jackson told the committee. “I am imposing all of those constraints because I understand how significant, how damaging, how horrible this crime is.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar also questioned Jackson, and began her time by commending Jackson for the way that she handled Hawley’s questioning, and saying that as a former prosecutor herself “could totally see where you were coming from when you talked about looking at these cases as a mom and as a judge.”

My take: Jackson is one of the most — if not the most — qualified judges in history to be nominated to the Supreme Court. On top of that, she is the first Black woman to ever be considered for the court. Many conservative senators will obviously want to vote against a Biden nominee, but they’re going to need a reason to do that. They also want to make it harder for any moderate Republicans to vote for Jackson, not because that will stop her from being nominated (Democrats have enough votes on their own) but because bipartisan support of Jackson looks great for Biden. Bringing up child pornography cases is a good way for conservatives to give themselves a reason to vote against Jackson’s nomination. 

GOP in good spirits

According to a memo released by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC),  an internal poll from the House Republicans’ campaign arm (which is led by Eighth District Rep. Tom Emmer) shows Republicans in a 4-point advantage over Democrats “on a generic ballot among registered likely voters in 77 congressional districts.”

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The poll also signaled that Republican messaging on rising gas prices and the economy is hitting home with swing voters in a way that Democrats’ counter-messaging is not. Biden won those 77 districts by five points in 2020, and the new projected lead is a seven-point improvement for the GOP since February of last year.

“This survey confirms what we already knew: Republicans have a winning economic message and Democrats’ failure to combat rising costs is repelling swing-voters heading into the midterms,” Emmer said in a statement.

Important context: This survey took place from March 12-16 and only tapped the opinions of 1,000 registered likely voters. There’s also a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

More action in CD1

As we talked about last week, things are heating up in the special election race for the First Congressional District. Jennifer Carnahan, widow of Rep. Jim Hagedorn and former Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman, announced her campaign has raised more than $100,000 in the first week.

“The outpouring of support I have received since declaring my candidacy to complete my husband’s term in office has been overwhelming,” Carnahan said in a statement. “To say this is an emotional journey would be an understatement. It is wonderful to know I have so many committed to helping me fight for our country and keep this district in conservative hands.”

A press release from Brad Finstad, former House representative in 21B, said that he’s received the endorsements of several current and former Minnesota lawmakers in his run for the First District. Lawmakers endorsing Finstad include Reps. Brian Daniels, Rod Hamilton, Paul Torkelson, John Petersburg and Joe Schomacker, and Sens. Gary Dahms, John Jasinski and Julie Rosen.

Return of the earmarks

It’s been 10 years since earmarks, which allow members of Congress to direct spending to specific projects in their home districts and states, have been used in Congress. Members are pretty excited that they’re back now.

Minnesota’s congressional delegation secured more than $130 million in funding for state projects in the $1.5 trillion omnibus bill signed by President Joe Biden this week. The 70-plus Minnesota-specific programs and projects will include law enforcement facilities, wastewater treatment, rural broadband and other infrastructure projects, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

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 “The advantage of this is that a lot of these are projects that don’t get the eye of a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C.,” Klobuchar told the Tribune.

What I’m reading

  • “It’s 70 degrees warmer than normal in eastern Antarctica. Scientists are flabbergasted,” Washington Post. In case you were lacking existential dread this week, this should help: The coldest place on the planet has had an extreme heat wave, “unlike any ever observed,” with temperatures over the easter Antarctic ice sheet 50 to 90 degrees above normal. Instead of temperatures being minus-50 degrees, they’re closer to zero or 10 degrees. So, still cold to humans, but downright balmy by Antarctic standards.
  • “How the Atlanta spa shootings — the victims, the survivors — tell a story of America,” Vanity Fair. This story contains graphic descriptions of the shooting, so be aware of that if reading things like that can be a trigger for you. With intricate personal anecdotes & vivid imagery, this long read beautifully captures the ways in which last year’s Atlanta spa shootings has reverberated through the AAPI community and beyond.

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or your thoughts on the SCOTUS hearings to ahackett@minnpost.com. See you next week.