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Opinion: What the latest Supreme Court nomination says about Utah

Utahns, although generally conservative, understand the historical viewpoint Ketanji Brown Jackson provides.

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Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks during her confirmation hearing.

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, March 22, 2022, in Washington.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. This produced local controversy as Utah’s senators split on the vote, with Mike Lee voting no and Mitt Romney voting yes. This mirrors the division among Utahns as revealed by a recent poll.

According to the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll, 47% of Utahns agree that Jackson should have been confirmed, 32% disagreed and 21% did not know. Will this be an issue in upcoming elections? Does the survey indicate any important trends in Utah?

Pignanelli: “It’s important for all Americans to see that the default of a Supreme Court Justice is not in the mold of a white male. That it can be anybody.” — Kimberly Atkins Stohr, Boston Globe

In her autobiography and numerous articles, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor emphasized how fellow Justice Thurgood Marshall brought the court a “special perspective.” His life experience prodded colleagues to the “power of moral truth” in deliberations and rulings.

Most Americans are intelligent, thoughtful individuals well-educated at a public or non-Ivy League private university. Amy Coney Barrett is the first justice in generations without an Ivy League degree, and therefore offers a needed perspective. Fortunately, her confirmation broadcasted the highest bench may be open to more than just an elite few.

Jackson, a Black American female, is a former defense counsel and trial judge. While some may disagree with Jackson’s prior judicial rulings, it is obvious her unique background will provide another important perspective.

The poll indicates Utahns, although generally conservative, understand the historical viewpoint Jackson provides. Even those strongly opposed to her nomination comprehend the significance and will be reluctant to raise this as an issue.

Thus, in future decades a fellow jurist will likely compliment Jackson for her insightful perspective.

Webb: Utahns are fair-minded people who understood that Jackson will be a liberal justice, as reflected in many of her opinions. But they also understand that Jackson will be replacing another liberal, and the ideological makeup of the court will not change. Conservatives will still hold a majority.

By essentially all accounts, Brown is a woman of accomplishment and integrity who is qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court. So I understand why Romney voted for her. However, the political ideology of Supreme Court justices absolutely does matter, especially in this era of government expansion, immense debt and federal encroachment into every aspect of our lives.

We need non-activist judges at all levels who understand that government, with its coercive power, is not the answer to every problem that confronts society. We need judges who will put constitutional principles ahead of personal preferences. So I understand why Lee voted against Jackson. Were I in the U.S. Senate, I would have voted with Lee. 

What does the confirmation of Jackson signal about race relations in America?

Pignanelli: Even before given the right to vote, Black female Americans were a major pillar of our republic. Always pushing their family to participate in government activities, they also made the righteous and necessary demands for equal treatment. Continuously overcoming challenges while tirelessly toiling inside the system to change it was their standard. All Americans, regardless of personal characteristics, owe these fearless warriors of democracy a huge debt. Most, but certainly not all, Republican senators comprehended this fundamental element of our society and at least offered nice statements about Jackson before casting a negative vote.

The confirmation of Jackson’s is an overdue, positive step for our country that all should herald.

Webb: The confirmation of Jackson is, indeed, another sign that America is not currently a systemically racist country, as asserted by Black Lives Matter activists and many left-wing politicians. Racism does not permeate every institution in the country. Such assertions are one reason why the Democrats will likely get soundly beaten in elections later this year.

But we should all acknowledge that racism, in all its repugnancy, still exists and we need continual improvement. As has been the case in virtually every country in the world, past racism has been a stain and disgrace that has stifled the progress of millions of people who were different.

However, America has confronted and rejected its past racism. Just in my lifetime, race relations have dramatically improved. Real racism is far less prevalent and is not tolerated by polite society. We’re not perfect, by any means, but we’ve come a very long way. Black conservatives assert that today the nanny-state is far more harmful to Black progress than is racism.

Is there any hope that future Supreme Court nomination hearings will be less divisive?

Pignanelli: The cruel media circus that surrounds modern hearings is not what the founders intended. Special interest groups feed on these ideological fights. Only a concerted effort by a determined president and Senate leaders can alter this tragic development.

Webb: The Jackson confirmation process was relatively tame compared to the contentious, nasty brawls over the Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett nominations made by President Donald Trump. Even though Republicans asked Jackson tough questions, they did not engage in personal, raw and disturbing attacks as suffered by Kavanaugh and Barrett.  

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Email: frankp@xmission.com.