Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, opened the hearing by putting Jackson’s nomination in historical context, noting that of 115 Supreme Court justices, 108 have been white men.
“Not a single justice has been a black woman,” Durbin said. “You, Judge Jackson, can be the first.”
“It’s not easy being the first,” he added. “But your presence here today, your willingness to brave this process, will give inspiration to millions of Americans who see themselves in you.”
At the hearing Monday, Jackson and the senators will make their opening statements establishing the arguments for and against her confirmation. Jackson will be introduced by Judge Thomas Griffith, formerly of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Lisa Fairfax, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. Jackson will answer questions from the members on Tuesday and Wednesday, and witnesses will testify on Thursday. Democrats hope to confirm Jackson by early April.
No Democratic senators have signaled they will oppose Jackson, and some Republicans have expressed openness to supporting her. In the 50-50 Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris could break a tied vote and confirm Jackson to the Supreme Court.
Some Republican senators have indicated that they will press Jackson for representing detainees at Guantánamo Bay.
“If somebody is assigned a job to do as a young lawyer, you don’t get to pick and choose your clients,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn told CNN. “But if you’re volunteering for it, because you’re a true believer, that’s a little different.”
Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley has raised concerns about Jackson’s record on sentencing in child pornography cases. Hawley said on Twitter last week that there is “an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children.”
The White House and Senate Democrats have pushed back on Hawley’s attack, noting that Jackson has the support of law enforcement groups, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police, and dozens of former state attorneys general. They noted she has already been confirmed by the Senate three times.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Jackson imposed sentences “consistent with or above” what was recommended in the “vast majority of cases involving sex crimes.”
“In the vast majority of cases involving child sex crimes, the sentences Judge Jackson imposed were consistent with or above what the government or US probation recommended,” Psaki said last week.
There are other matters Republicans may probe.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, challenged Jackson’s declaration that “presidents are not kings” and suggested she was engaged in a kind of hyperbole.
And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has pushed for Jackson to publicly oppose efforts to expand the court, which activists on the left have called for since McConnell and Senate Republicans blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016 and then expanded, under Trump, the high court’s conservative majority from 5-4 to 6-3. Jackson’s nomination to replace another liberal will not change the ideological balance of the court.
Still, even those who may oppose Jackson expect the hearings this week to be less contentious than those in the Trump era, which altered the balance of the court and, in the case of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, centered on allegations of sexual assault.
“I expect we will see a thorough examination of her record, of her jurisprudence,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told CNN. “What we will not see is the kind of political circus that we saw from Democrats, particularly with Justice Kavanaugh, where they engaged in personal smears. They went into the gutter.”
“I’m confident Republicans are not going to respond in kind,” he added.
Murkowski has said that her previous support of Jackson to be a judge does not signal how she would vote for Jackson to be a justice.
But Collins has praised Jackson’s credentials and experience as “impressive.” The Maine Republican said she would not make her decision until after her hearings before the Judiciary Committee.
This story has been updated with additional developments Monday.
CNN’s Joan Biskupic and Tierney Sneed contributed to this report.