Today the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked, 11 to 11, on whether to send Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court to the full Senate for a vote. The Democrats can still move the nomination forward through procedural measures, and three Republicans—Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Mitt Romney (R-UT)—have said they will vote for her, so her confirmation is assured (even if Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who has not yet said how she will vote, votes no).
Jackson is very popular as a nominee: a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that only 27% of Americans oppose her confirmation while 42% support it (31% say they’re not sure what they think).
Many of the Republicans acknowledged that Judge Jackson is highly qualified for the position, but they cannot abide what they call her “activism,” by which they mean her willingness to use the federal government to protect the rights of American citizens within the states. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, says he opposes Jackson’s confirmation because he disagrees fundamentally with her “views on the role of judges and the role that they should play in our system of government.”
The “originalist” judges who object to the court’s use of the Fourteenth Amendment to protect civil rights control the court by a vote of 6 to 3. If she is confirmed, Judge Jackson will not change that split. The Republicans are looking to make their vision take over the court entirely.
The hearings for Jackson had Republicans questioning abortion rights, of course, but also the right to birth control, interracial marriage, and gay marriage. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have suggested they would also overturn Gideon v. Wainwright, the 1963 Supreme Court decision that says states must provide defendants with legal counsel. The attacks on Jackson for her time as a public defender—the element of our justice system that guarantees poor people can have lawyers in court—suggest that the right to publicly funded legal counsel, too, is no longer secure.
Ideologically opposed to Jackson, but unable to find real cause for attacking her stellar record, the Republicans have gone after her for what they claim is her lenient sentencing of child pornographers. These claims have been widely dismissed by legal experts as baseless: even a conservative writer for the National Review, who otherwise opposed Jackson, called them “meritless to the point of demagoguery.” But the party doubled down on the lies.
In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank ran the numbers. In the four days of the hearings for Jackson’s nomination, senators on the Judiciary Committee used the words “child porn,” “pornography,” and “pornographer” 165 times. They used some version of “sex” (“sexual assault,” “sex crimes,” and so on) 142 times. They said “pedophile” 15 times and “predators” 13 times, one time more than the Bill of Rights came up. Sometimes the words came from Democrats defending Jackson, but the overwhelming majority of the comments came from Republicans attacking Jackson. That pattern continued today as senators made statements before their votes suggesting that Jackson had done all she could to turn those who commit sex crimes against children loose on the country.
Their attacks worked on their constituents. Before Biden nominated Jackson, when a Yahoo News/YouGov poll asked people to assess Jackson’s qualifications, 57% of Republicans said she was qualified. Only 19% of Republicans (and 11% of all Americans) said she was not qualified. While the hearings made her lose some support across the board, it still left her popular with Democrats and Independents. Republican opinions, though, have changed dramatically. Now just 31% say she’s qualified, and 47% say she’s unqualified.
With their focus on sex crimes against children, Republicans are openly courting the QAnon vote, even though Republican words do not always seem to match their actions. We learned today that Florida governor Ron DeSantis delayed the release of public records involving a Florida state official, Halsey Beshears, who is linked to the underage sex crimes investigation in that state. Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is also under investigation in that case.
The implications of the focus on sex crimes against children are larger than the next election, though. Republicans are increasingly abandoning the party’s position in favor of small government, a position it adopted under Ronald Reagan, and calling for a strong government to enforce right-wing social policies.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis on March 28 signed a bill banning kindergarten through third-grade public school teachers from talking about sexual orientation or gender identity, a measure its opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The Walt Disney Company, which is the state’s largest employer with 80,000 employees there, didn’t take a position on the bill until finally, under intense pressure from inside the company, Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek came out against the measure and promised the company would donate $5 million to LBGTQ organizations.
DeSantis called Disney’s opposition “radical” and tore into “woke” corporations. He has suggested that the Florida legislature should cancel Disney’s special status in Florida, a status that essentially makes it a local government. Right-wing commentators have cheered him on, eager to use government power to retaliate against companies that bow to popular pressure in favor of Black rights, LGBTQ rights, and so on.
This has pushed them into the camp of authoritarians, and they are using fears of sexual attacks on children to win support for that authoritarianism. When Hungary’s Viktor Orbán won reelection yesterday, columnist Rod Dreher tweeted: “Viktor Orban wins crushing re-election victory. Groomers hardest hit. [Governor Ron DeSantis], you are onto something!”
Pushing Orbán’s voters yesterday was a referendum on the ballot that included questions like: “Do you support the unrestricted exposure of underage children to sexually explicit media content that may affect their development?” DeSantis’s spokesperson Christina Pushaw tweeted: “Love the referendum idea. Wish the USA could do something similar[.]” Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene also applauded Orbán’s approach to “sex ed” and tweeted: “Congratulations to Viktor Orban on winning a victory well deserved! He’s leading Hungary the right way and we need this in America.”
As soon as his victory was announced—it was a done deal thanks to his manipulation of the mechanics of elections—Orbán reaffirmed his friendship with Russian president Vladimir Putin and took a hit at Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, who is defending his country against Putin’s invasion.
On that same day that Orbán took the side opposed to Zelensky, we learned more about the atrocities that took place in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, where Russian soldiers raped and executed civilians. “You may remember I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal,” President Joe Biden said today. “Well, the truth of the matter is, you saw what happened in Bucha…he is a war criminal.”
Today, the U.S., Europe, and allies prepared more sanctions against Russia, and the U.S. froze currency reserves Russia needs to make payments on its debt, forcing it closer to default.
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I wrote to my US Senators yesterday asking them to confirm Judge KBJ.
This is despite the fact I live in Kentucky. represented by MM (Senate majority leader) and RP (tea party self licensed eye doctor.)
Ever since reading your daily letters, I find it important to write my elected officials. They need to hear a different point of view.
According to Hungarian friends, while the opposition to Orban tried to organize into a unified coalition so they didn't split the opposition vote, the center-left opposition was allied with the major right wing/populist opposition. Members of that party either voted for Orban's Fidesz Party, or for splinter further-right parties, which ended up locking out the opposition and giving Orban his biggest victory yet. My Hungarian friends are now planning to move to Denmark and become Danish citizens. The EU open borders are alowing a "brain drain" from Hungary as those who can't stand what is happening leave.
It's really no surprise Hungary is in this position. Prior to 1918 as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire/Holy Roman empire for 900 years, Hungary was the center of the reactionary conservatism of the empire. Then in 1921 they got the fascist Horthy "regency" that allied with Hitler for WW2, then in 1946 they got one of the tightest Stalinist dictatorships. 1992 saw democracy, but it wasn't able to deliver as promised, with the result that Orban became PM 10 years later. With a "democratic tradition" like this, the whole thing is unsurprising.