Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., asked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson about her views on the use of specific language in judicial decisions — specifically those that concern immigration — as the Senate Judiciary Committee continued its Supreme Court confirmation hearings March 23.
Padilla noted that American law and courts don’t always treat people who migrate to the United States “with dignity and humanity,” citing “cruel and counterproductive choices” made within immigration policy as well as the broader language used to discuss undocumented people and asylum seekers. He cited examples of U.S. law and federal court opinions that use terms like “illegal aliens” to refer to those individuals.
He added that he noticed that Jackson’s district court opinions appear to avoid using that type of language, opting instead to use terms like “undocumented” or “non-citizens.”
“I hope that was a conscious choice. The language we use and the language our courts use to describe people — whether immigrants, the formerly incarcerated, individuals who identify as LGBTQ or other historically marginalized people — really matters a great deal,” Padilla said. He asked whether she agrees with that assessment.
Jackson said that the judicial branch is unique within the federal government in that judges are required to write about and explain their decisions, adding that she has “long believed” that their language and clarity matter.
“We’re explaining the law to people, and people read and understand what the [rule of law] is in this country through the opinions of judges,” Jackson said. “So they do matter.”
Wednesday was senators’ final day to question Jackson, who was nominated by President Joe Biden in February to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. If confirmed, she will be the first Black woman on the high court. On the final day of the hearings March 24, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear from friends and colleagues of Jackson about her temperament and approach to the law.
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