A group of Brigham Young University law professors is urging the Senate to confirm Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, citing her support for religious freedom, among other things.
In a letter to Senate leaders and Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, 16 members of the J. Reuben Law School faculty say Jackson is “exceptionally” well-qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court. They also say her academic achievement, extensive law practice and judicial experience, and broad bipartisan support would make her a “distinguished” appointment to the court.
“Finally, though we do not believe that religious faith should be a test for any federal office, as faculty at a law school whose sponsoring church endured persecution by the federal government, we find it worthy of note that Judge Jackson understands and values the freedom of religion,” the professors wrote.
BYU is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Specifically, the professors point to a 2017 case in which Jackson ruled in favor of a Christian postal worker who alleged religious discrimination over his supervisor’s retaliation against him for playing gospel music at his workstation, while allowing other employees to play secular music.
Howard Tyson represented himself in the case. Pro se plaintiffs typically don’t get very far in the judicial system because they often are seen as “cranky” and don’t plead their case especially well because they don’t have and can’t afford a lawyer, said Fred Gedicks, the BYU law professor who organized the letter.
“In that decision she was quite sensitive to both inequality in the way that person was being treated and to the fact that he was standing up literally for himself,” Gedicks said.
“I think that’s sort of the attitude toward the freedom of religion that we need today, someone who understands that it’s important and values it and is willing to indicate it, even when it’s not framed in the most eloquent way.”
At the confirmation hearings on her nomination as a federal appellate judge for the D.C. Circuit, Jackson declared her support for the freedom of religion, calling it a “foundational tenet of our entire government,” the letter says.
Why these BYU law professors urge confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson https://t.co/jcajDidFub#utpol pic.twitter.com/nAB1U0kLDF— DNews Politics (@DNewsPolitics) March 25, 2022
During her confirmation hearings this week as a Supreme Court nominee, Jackson mentioned her faith in and gratitude to God several times.
“My life has been blessed beyond measure, and I do know that one can only come this far by faith,” she said.
Senators pressed Jackson on both religious freedom and her personal religious beliefs.
If confirmed, she would not only be the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court, but would also bring religious diversity. A nondenominational Protestant, she would join a court currently made up entirely of Jews and Catholics.
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, including Lee, made an issue of Jackson’s record on sentencing child pornography, criticizing her for imposing lesser punishments in some cases.
On Friday, Lee and 10 other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Jackson demanding more information about the case involving Wesley Hawkins, which has garnered much attention from those senators. Specifically, they want her to provide a “probation petition” from the court file and further explanation of her handling of the case.
Gedicks called the GOP senators’ criticism of Jackson “completely decontextualized.” In most of those cases, he said, federal prosecutors actually recommended a sentence that was lighter than federal sentencing guidelines. Congress, as Jackson mentioned, gives judges discretion to do that, he said.
“I think this is much more about fundraising and underlining their personal brand than it is about identifying anything about Judge Jackson that is disqualifying,” Gedicks said, in reference to Lee and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who first brought up the child pornography cases.
Jackson has more than 100 sentencing decisions and the senators singled out a few on a hot-button issue. Gedicks said it’s hard to believe that as a Supreme Court justice that she would be sympathetic to child pornographers.
“I think it has little to do with her qualifications and little to do with what they think of her qualifications and more to do with underlining and emphasizing where they are to their base,” Gedicks said.
In the letter, the professors noted Jackson has broad legal practice experience in both the private and public sectors. She also has eight years as a federal district judge and since 2021 she has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. If confirmed, she would join Justice Sonia Sotomayor as only the second current member of the court to have served as a trial judge.
“Judge Jackson’s nomination enjoys strong support across American society,” the letter says, noting endorsements from law enforcement, former U.S. attorneys, as well as Republican and Democratic attorneys general from 40 states and territories.
The letter also notes that conservative retired Judge Thomas Griffith, a Republican appointee to the D.C. Circuit and former general counsel at BYU, supports Jackson. Griffith introduced Jackson at her confirmation hearings.