Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson put her religious faith front and center – and vaguely.
She spoke strongly about the role of her faith in her life and career, but did not go into detail about that commitment. Her beliefs have drawn attention as she undergoes Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this week for her Supreme Court nomination.
“I must also pause to reaffirm my thanks to God, for it is faith that sustains me at this time,” Jackson told the committee Monday, in words similar to his opening remarks after President Joe Biden l presented last month as its candidate. “Even before today, I can honestly say that my life has been blessed beyond measure.”
Jackson identifies as a non-denominational Protestant, she told the committee on Tuesday when questioned by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.S.C.
Graham insisted, asking how often she went to church. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are in terms of religion?”
Jackson replied, “I hesitate to talk about my faith in this way simply because I want to be aware of the need for the public to have confidence in my ability to separate my personal opinions.” She said her faith is important but noted the Constitution prohibits any religious test for public office.
Graham agreed and admitted she could be impartial – but said he was trying to draw a comparison to what he saw as unfair treatment of a Republican candidate by Democrats. They asked if Amy Coney Barrett’s Catholic views in 2017 – then upheld by the United States Court of Appeals – would influence her decisions in cases like Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion. Barrett joined the Supreme Court in 2020.
Referring to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein’s famous exchange with Barrett, Graham said: “How would you feel if a senator here said, ‘Dogma lives strong in you and that’s concerning?’
If Jackson has a specific religious affiliation, it was not easily found in standard Google searches, or by keyword search in the approximately 2,000 pages of documents released by the Judiciary Committee, which include much of Jackson’s public records, such as speeches. and court decisions.
Jackson regularly speaks about the motivating power of faith and prayer — whether in a high school commencement speech or in a speech about the deep faith of civil rights activists. In a Tuesday conversation with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, she said, “I sometimes focus on my faith when I’m going through tough times.”
But the record gives no indication as to whether she ever belonged to a specific congregation, held a leadership role in the church or regularly attends services.
For supporter Barbara Williams-Skinner, none of this matters as much as her public life.
“She says she’s a strong person of faith, and we’ve seen that in action,” said Williams-Skinner, co-host of the National African American Clergy Network. She cited Jackson’s work as a public defender, making the “choice to defend those who cannot defend themselves,” and on the U.S. bipartisan sentencing commission.
“People who may not even agree with her on a range of issues think she will lean on her faith to be fair, to be committed to the Constitution,” Williams-Skinner said.
Historically, the majority of judges have been Protestant. But today the court has six Catholic, one Protestant and two Jewish judges, although the latter number will drop by one when Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement takes effect. The only Protestant, Neil Gorsuch, grew up Catholic, but more recently has attended Protestant services.
Jackson has faced cases involving church and state law, but she has refused to expound on a philosophy about it.
Facing Senate confirmation hearings for a position on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2021, senators peppered her with questions about whether she agreed with the decisions of judiciary that rolled back state restrictions on funding religious institutions or on public worship during the pandemic.
In a written response to the senators, she cited the “incontrovertible fact” that the Constitution “protects a basic and fundamental right to religious freedom.” She noted that the Supreme Court has worked through the implications of “what it means to treat religious organizations differently.” “, and she said she would be bound by those precedents.
“I have not expressed any personal opinion on the scope and contours of the fundamental right to religious freedom, nor would it be appropriate for me to do so,” she said.
That answer might have sufficed for an appellate-level position, but senators need to push for more answers about his philosophy, said Roger Severino, a senior fellow at the Center for Ethics and Public Policy and a former director of the Department’s Civil Rights Office. health and social services under the Trump administration.
Severino said senators should question his judicial philosophy on issues such as when religious freedom claims conflict with government actions.
“She gave the platitudes,” Severino said. “Nobody’s going to come out and say, ‘I’m against religious freedom.’ But here’s the thing: when she’s on the Supreme Court, she no longer has a duty to follow Supreme Court precedent. She could overrule Supreme Court precedent.”
Jackson previously served on the board of trustees of Montrose Christian School, a private school in Maryland affiliated with a Southern Baptist church. This school’s statement of belief echoed the denomination’s doctrinal positions against same-sex marriage and abortion and declared that a wife should “graciously submit” to the direction of her husband.
Asked about this role in 2021 during her appeal hearing, she said she was unaware of the statement and that she did not “necessarily agree with all the statements” of the councils whose it belongs.
Severino contrasted Jackson’s response to how Barrett was criticized for being affiliated with a Christian school with similar beliefs. “Because he’s one of their own, the left gives (Jackson) a pass.”
Rachel Laser, CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said she had no problem with Jackson emphasizing her faith in God.
“When someone is in a key moment in their life, it’s appropriate for them to be authentic about who they are,” Laser said, noting that Biden often quotes his Catholic faith publicly.
“As long as these people support the separation of church and state in their official capacity and are aware that they are speaking to a diverse audience and may not share their beliefs, it is perfectly normal that they are genuine,” she said.
Associated Press reporter Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this report.
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