All the way back in 2008, Marsha Blackburn recalled an anecdote from her first congressional campaign. A man in a coffee shop asked, “Little lady, what qualifies you to run for the United States House of Representatives?”
Blackburn, so the story goes, “quickly ticked off her time as a choir director and Girl Scouts cookie mom.”
After a brief exchange, the man asked another question. “Little lady, if you win this thing, what we gonna call you — congresslady? Congressgirl?”
“Sir, congressman will be just fine,” Blackburn replied.
And it was. In the House, Blackburn famously went by “congressman” instead of “congresswoman,” although she never made a big deal of it.
When I asked the senator on Tuesday why it matters that she’ll be the only Republican woman on the Judiciary Committee during Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Blackburn’s answer was that she plans to “give voice to the questions and concerns that conservative women have as they look at the federal bench and the individual that is going to take the seat.”
Those concerns, according to Blackburn, involve Jackson’s “respect” for the Constitution and rule of law. She’s convinced Democrats’ reprehensible conduct during the Kavanaugh confirmation is “why now people want it to be focused on the issues. They want it to be very thorough, they want to go into someone’s record.”
Blackburn, a mother of two who’s been married to her husband since the 1970s, worked her way from a career in sales and marketing up to Tennessee’s state senate and then to the House of Representatives, where she served from 2003 until voters sent her to the upper chamber in 2019. (Against the wishes of Taylor Swift.) In the Senate, Blackburn has become a reliable voice for the new GOP, zeroing in on big technology companies and America’s enemies in the Chinese government.
The Kavanaugh confirmation undoubtedly marked a turning point for many Republicans, not just in Washington. Blackburn joined the judiciary committee in time to question Amy Coney Barrett and, ultimately, vote in favor of her advancement to the court. In an empty meeting room on Capitol Hill, spring sunshine pouring through the windows, Blackburn and I briefly revisited those ugly confirmations during an interview less than a week before the start of Jackson’s time in the hot seat.
“Tennesseans,” Blackburn told me, “were just shocked at the conduct of some of the Democrats” during Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation. They watched Barrett’s confirmation “intently.”
Rightfully so, given how Democrats and their allies in media accused Kavanaugh of gang rape with no credible evidence. Justice Barrett faced heinous attacks on her faith and family from the press. One best-selling author implied she was akin to a “white colonizer” for adopting black children.
With that in mind, I asked for Blackburn’s response to an increasingly popular sentiment on the right. “If Democrats are going to break all of these norms, why should we not fight their norm-breaking with our own norm-breaking? If they’re fundamentally transforming the country with activist judges—and I think it Judge Jackson’s record suggests that’s the kind of jurist that she is—if they’re doing that, is the only way to stop it not breaking norms on our own?”
“The way to stop it is to show the record,” said the senator, “of the individuals, whether it is Judge Jackson, whether it is nominees for any of the other federal courts. Sunlight is the best on this. And to bring attention to the records, to the writings, the rulings, the opinions, the number of times that have been overturned, respect for the Constitution, respect for the rule of law. That is the best way to bring attention to an issue and preserve this nation’s founding and the fundamentals of the Constitution which have kept us as a democratic republic.”
I then asked Blackburn about the particular norm I had in mind as a potential sticking point for Jackson’s confirmation. Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee killed Sarah Bloom Raskin’s nomination to the Federal Reserve this week by boycotting a committee vote, denying Democrats the quorum needed to advance her nomination. Raskin pulled out of the running.
Months ago, Rachel Bovard explained in The Federalist how Senate Republicans could use the same rule to leave Biden’s Supreme Court nominee in procedural limbo.
“By failing to show up to vote on the nomination in committee, Republicans could prevent the nomination from reaching the Senate floor by appealing to the Senate’s Rule 26, which requires that a majority of members, physically present, report the bill out of committee,” Bovard wrote.
Referencing the Raskin case, I asked Blackburn, “Are there any circumstances in which you could envision Republicans denying Judge Jackson a quorum depending on how the hearing goes?”
“The best thing for us to do right now is to prepare for opening statements, prepare for our questions, and approach next week in a thorough vetting mindset process,” she told me.
I started to push one more time on the question of norms, noting how Senate Republicans haven’t forced Vice President Harris to break many ties and even voted to confirm some of President Biden’s nominees. Blackburn politely interrupted me. (It was fair, I was rambling.)
“Republicans,” she said pointedly, “should lead the way in saying, ‘This is the Constitution. This is what we’re required to do by the Constitution. This is where the Constitution places responsibility. And this is what is required of us.’ And I think that it is a very good thing for Republicans to show that we believe in the Constitution and the rule of law and have respect for the Constitution and the rule of law.”
Somewhere in the middle of our conversation, I asked Blackburn about another norm, one she’s challenged very effectively. When Justice Breyer announced his retirement, I noted, some voices on the left were lamenting the corporate bias in Breyer’s record on antitrust, an issue on which Blackburn has become a major leader in challenging GOP orthodoxy.
“We are looking very closely at her record with companies and anything that she has written or said about antitrust,” the senator replied.
The effort to vet Jackson is an “all-hands-on-deck operation for us,” Blackburn explained.
Democrats are scrambling to confirm the judge before Easter. “Democrats really want to push this forward,” said Blackburn. “They are afraid. We’re at a 50-50 Senate. And they may not have the votes at some point. So they’re wanting to get the hearing out of the way and get her ready to go to the floor while they still have the votes.”