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Tillis Differs from GOP Colleagues in Jackson Confirmation

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Dick Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Ketanji Brown Jackson that one of the special guests who attended the confirmation hearing was the woman who cleans his office at night.

She told me soon after she arrived in this room today how wonderful it was. However, she asked my staff: ‘Why are some people so mean?’”

According to Durbin, senators on his side of the aisle are not mean. However, he began the hearing Wednesday by saying some of his Republican colleagues were using it to showcase talking points for the November election.

Thom Tillis, from North Carolina, was not one of them.

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Will Tillis, North Carolina’s junior senator since 2015, opted to switch places with fellow Tennessee senator Marsha Blackburn at the hearing and attend Wednesday morning’s proceedings. In contrast to Blackburn’s assertion late Tuesday that “critical race theory” should be taught in elementary schools, Tillis chose to ask about recidivism and court packing, two topics that were tame compared with what his colleagues asked.

Tillis explained to Jackson that he viewed Jackson’s philosophy with respect when he was being questioned. “I really admire your philosophy.” Tillis said. The content of your character has been demonstrated this week just as I predicted, and I am pleased to report that has happened.”

Tillis sounded like a fair and level-headed senator, asking about cases that his colleagues had brought up just the day before, rather than focused on race-based teaching like Blackburn and Ted Cruz, religious fervor like Lindsey Graham or QAnon-soaked questions about child sexual abuse sentences.

“Do I read that statement to say that you felt, given the circumstances of the time, (the incarcerated) should all be released?” he asked Jackson about U.S V Wiggins, a case Jackson heard about early releases because of potential exposure to COVID-19. In a similar question about the same case, Blackburn accused Jackson of advocating that “each and every criminal defendant in D.C. Corrections custody should be released.”

Jackson still noted that Tillis was not, in fact, reading the statement correctly. In the case he referenced, the incarcerated person was not granted compassionate release.

“Senator, if you read two more sentences down that is precisely what I focus on,” Brown responded. “This is a case, United States v. Wiggins, where I was setting up my analysis as to why I would not be releasing Mr. Wiggins.”

Tillis’ line of questioning signals that he, unlike some of his fellow senators, is taking the time to judge Jackson for her character and record instead of using her nomination to rile up his base. After all, that’s the way these hearings used to work, when hearings were more about cases and less about scoring points with Fox News.

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It’s also easy to seem level-headed compared to the way his colleagues have questioned Jackson. Graham, for instance, interrupted her multiple times to make his points and asked Jackson to rate her faith on a scale of 1-10.

Cruz blew up photos of the book “Antiracist Baby” and asked: “Do you agree with this book being taught with kids that babies are racist?”

But Tillis also appeared to stand up for his GOP colleagues.

“I thought it was interesting that they were ridiculing some of my colleagues on this side of the aisle for bringing up the behavior of past Supreme Court hearings,” Tillis said. “This is really the appropriate venue to do it.”

Tillis cited the way Democrats questioned Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett. But that comparison was weak: Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault. Barrett was rated “unqualified” by the American Bar Association and had her hearing rushed through by former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had previously delayed a judiciary hearing for Merrick Garland for almost an entire year.

Maybe Tillis wants to position himself as a reasonable Republican. It’s also possible that he knows he can redeem the party by simply not bringing far right extremism to the senate floor.


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