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Lindsey Graham congratulates Judge Jackson with an odd attack ad

Ketanji Brown Jackson has already been confirmed. So why did Lindsey Graham launch an attack ad against her?

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Four days ago, at 1:53 p.m. eastern, the Senate formally confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the next associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. It was about six hours later, at 8:12 p.m. eastern, when Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham congratulated the first Black woman ever confirmed to the nation’s highest court by releasing an attack ad.

The South Carolinian’s minute-long video began with this declaration:

“In the last several years, we’ve had three Supreme Court hearings. The game has changed. Remember Amy Coney Barrett, how they came after her, remember Kavanaugh? I do. Compare that hearing with what happened to Judge Jackson is ridiculous. She wasn’t ambushed. I asked her hard questions, and she gave bad answers.”

Right off the bat, we’ve actually had four Supreme Court hearings in recent years, not three. As for whether people remember Amy Coney Barrett, I certainly do. In fact, I remember one specific Republican senator — I believe his name was Lindsey Graham — going back on his word and rushing to confirm her in the midst of a presidential election.

I also remember Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing and the GOP senators’ indifference to credible allegations of sexual misconduct in the nominee’s background.

If comparing their hearings to Jackson’s process is “ridiculous,” it’s only because Democrats took the confirmation process in 2022 more seriously than their Republican counterparts did in 2020 and 2018.

As for the senator patting himself on the back for having asked "hard questions," the record shows that Graham's questions weren't difficult, they were cringe-worthy. “Uh, on a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are in terms of religion?” was one of the most outlandish questions in the history of Supreme Court confirmation battles, and it was asked by the South Carolinian who's now boasting about the quality of his lines of inquiry.

But Graham’s video proceeded with this pitch:

“I voted ‘no’ to Judge Jackson, and now I understand why the radical left wanted her so badly. She’s a judicial activist; she gets outcomes she wants no matter how the law is written; [and] when it comes to crime, her record is very, very dangerous. That doesn’t work with me.”

Graham proceeded to whine a bit about Democrats filibustering Janice Rogers Brown, neglecting to mention (a) she wasn’t a Supreme Court nominee; (b) Brown ended up getting confirmed anyway; and (c) Brown really did have a radical ideology she employed from the federal bench.

But as notable as the Republican senator’s errors and omissions are, what’s even more striking is the existence of this attack ad.

In recent years, as Supreme Court confirmation battles have turned into “a political blood sport,” campaign-style commercials have become relatively common. The point, of course, is to help shape public attitudes and pressure senators ahead of a confirmation vote.

Graham, however, unveiled his attack ad after Jackson had already been confirmed. There’s no one left to persuade. So why bother?

It’s not because of the senator’s electoral considerations: After a 10-point win in 2020, Graham won’t face voters again until November 2026.

The other possible explanations make more sense. For one thing, the Republican senator probably realizes that Jackson was — and is — a popular nominee. Graham probably wants to help undermine that support to the extent that he can in the hopes that Democrats won’t get an election-year benefit.

For another, the South Carolinian also may want to position himself as a GOP leader in the fight against qualified judicial nominees, especially if there’s a Republican-led Senate in the latter half of President Joe Biden’s first term.

But let’s not overlook the defensive subtext to Graham’s ad. The senator is no doubt aware that he and his colleagues were widely derided for their disrespectful, and at times embarrassing, treatment of Jackson. Many voters noticed, and the GOP antics generated widespread public disapproval. The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson went so far as to argue that the ways in which GOP senators approached this fight reflected “a Republican Party in decay.”

Graham’s attack ad appears intended to serve as a defense. What he’s actually done is validated all of the criticisms the senator and his far-right colleagues earned.