Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn, the lone woman on the GOP's side of the Senate Judiciary Committee, really wants to talk about gender. She wants to know what Ketanji Brown Jackson, the Supreme Court nominee with no public profile in athletics, thinks of transgender athletes.
Blackburn was the last senator to question Jackson during her Tuesday confirmation hearing. Blackburn, who’s so far used her time with Jackson to barrage her with right-wing grievances of varying basis in reality, used the opportunity to bring up Lia Thomas, a trans swimmer who won an NCAA championship last week.
“What message do you think this sends to girls who aspire to compete and win in sports at the highest levels?” Blackburn wanted to know.
“Senator, I’m not sure what message that sends,” Jackson answered. “If you’re asking me about the legal issues related to it, those are topics that are being hotly discussed, as you say, and could come to the court, so I’m not able to—”
“And I think it tells our girls that their voices don’t matter,” Blackburn interrupted. “I think it tells them that they’re second-class citizens. Parents want to have a Supreme Court justice who is committed to preserving parental autonomy and protecting our nation’s children.” (Supreme Court nominees try to avoid answering questions about issues that they could one day be asked to rule on.)
That wasn’t Blackburn’s only line of questioning about gender, sex, and sexuality. At another point, she also asked Jackson, “Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?”
“Can I provide a definition? No,” Jackson said. “I can’t.”
“You can’t?” Blackburn asked.
“Not in this context. I’m not a biologist,” Jackson replied, before saying that, as a judge, her job involves resolving legal disputes.
Blackburn also asked Jackson about abortion and Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized the procedure nationwide. She specifically brought up a 2001 brief co-authored by Jackson, in a case involving anti-abortion protesters outside an abortion clinic. The brief described them as a “hostile, noisy crowd of in-your-face protesters,” which Blackburn quoted back to Jackson.
“When you go to church and knowing there are pro-life women there, do you look at them, thinking of them in that way?” Blackburn asked. “That they’re noisy, hostile, in your face? Do you think of them, do you think of pro-life women like me?”
“Senator, that was a statement in a brief made in argument for my client,” Jackson said. “It’s not the way that I think of or characterize people.”
Blackburn quickly pivoted to discussing the future of abortion rights in the United States. She said that 79 percent of American women support restrictions of some type on abortion; polling on the procedure is notoriously complex, but since the late 1980s, most Americans have supported keeping Roe (a ruling that Blackburn called “shameful”).
The Supreme Court is currently deliberating over Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that may spell the end of Roe and the nationwide legal right to abortion. Blackburn wanted to know: “Do you commit to respecting the court’s decision if it rules that Roe was wrongly decided and that the issue of abortion should be sent back to hte Supreme Court?”
“Whatever the Supreme Court decides in Dobbs will be the precedent of the Supreme Court,” Jackson said. “It will be worthy of respect in the sense that it is the precedent, and I commit to treating it as I would any other precedent.”