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Ted Cruz’s example of a non-‘controversial’ Supreme Court nominee was a controversial slave owner

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) began his opening statement during Monday’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson by telling Jackson and the cameras that “Supreme Court confirmations don’t were not always controversial”. In fact, he says, “Bushrod Washington, when he was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1798, was confirmed the very next day.”

True, Washington, George Washington’s favorite nephew, was confirmed by voice vote the day after he was nominated by President John Adams, The Washington Post reports. But ‘Washington was neither the first nor the last to be confirmed so quickly’ – about 10 Supreme Court justices were confirmed the same day they were named – and “he was definitely controversial, largely because of his actions as a slaver”.

Bushrod Washington

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On the one hand, Washington brought enslaved African Americans back to Mt. Vernon after inheriting the Washington estate in 1802, upon the death of Martha Washington, who had freed the remaining slaves. It wasn’t too controversial in the Senate itself, where more than half of the 31 senators at the time were also slave owners, the To post reports. But when he sold 54 of those slaves for $10,000 to pay off his debts, and they were driven in chains to Louisiana, the newspapers called his actions “exceedingly revolting.”

Washington also co-founded the American Colonization Society in 1812, working to send the growing ranks of free black Americans to Africa, a place where almost none had ever been. When abolitionists and Negroes fought against this movement, Washington complained that “unworthy people” were speaking “with my Negroes, and to impress upon their minds the belief that as General Washington’s nephew, or as as president of the Colonization Society, or for other reasons, I could not hold them in bondage,” the To post reports, citing a 1980 article by the Supreme Court Historical Society.

“So it was him that Cruz mentioned in his speech on Monday,” writes Gillian Brockell at the To post. “For all intents and purposes, it was a throwaway line intended only to introduce Cruz’s real historical point: what had changed since those peaceful, uncontroversial days.” But his explanation of what changed raised its own set of questions. Read more on The Washington Post.

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