The Senate is expected to confirm Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson on Thursday, securing her place as the first Black woman on the high court and giving President Joe Biden a bipartisan endorsement for his historic pick.
Three Republican senators have said they will support Jackson, who would replace Justice Stephen Breyer when he retires this summer. While the vote will be far from the overwhelming bipartisan confirmations for Breyer and other justices in decades past, it will still be a significant bipartisan accomplishment for Biden in the narrow 50-50 Senate after GOP senators aggressively worked to paint Jackson as too liberal and soft on crime.
“It will be a joyous day,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as he announced Thursday’s vote late Wednesday evening. “Joyous for the Senate, joyous for the Supreme Court, joyous for America.”
Jackson, a 51 year-old federal appeals court judge, would be just the third Black justice, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and the sixth woman. She would join two other women, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, on the liberal side of a 6-3 conservative court. With Justice Amy Coney Barrett sitting at the other end of the bench, four of the nine justices would be women for the first time in history.
After a bruising hearing in which Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee aggressively interrogated Jackson on her sentencing record, three GOP senators came out and said they would support her. The statements from Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney all said the same thing – they might not always agree with Jackson, but they found her to be enormously well qualified for the job.
Collins and Murkowski both decried the increasingly partisan confirmation process, which Collins called “broken” and Murkowski called “corrosive” and “more detached from reality by the year.”
Biden, a veteran of a more bipartisan Senate, said from the beginning that he wanted support from both parties for his history-making nominee, and he invited Republicans to the White House as he made his decision. It was an attempted reset from three brutal Supreme Court battles during President Donald Trump’s presidency, when Democrats vociferously opposed the nominees, and from the end of President Barack Obama’s, when Republicans blocked Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland from getting a vote.
Before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Jackson said her life was shaped by her parents’ experiences with racial segregation and civil rights laws that were enacted a decade before she was born.
With her parents and family sitting behind her, she told the panel that her “path was clearer” than theirs as a Black American. Jackson attended Harvard University, served as a public defender, worked at a private law firm and was appointed as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in addition to her nine years on the federal bench.
“I have been a judge for nearly a decade now, and I take that responsibility and my duty to be independent very seriously,” Jackson said. “I decide cases from a neutral posture. I evaluate the facts, and I interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me, without fear or favour, consistent with my judicial oath.”
Once sworn in, Jackson would be the second youngest member of the court after Barrett, 50. She would join a court on which no one is yet 75, the first time that has happened in nearly 30 years.
Jackson’s first term will be marked by cases involving race, both in college admissions and voting rights. She has pledged to sit out the court’s consideration of Harvard’s admissions program since she is a member of its board of overseers. But the court could split off a second case involving a challenge to the University of North Carolina’s admissions process, which might allow her to weigh in on the issue.
Republicans spent the hearings interrogating her sentencing record on the federal bench, including the sentences she handed down in child pornography cases, which they argued were too light. Jackson pushed back on the GOP narrative, declaring that “nothing could be further from the truth” and explaining her reasoning in detail. Democrats said she was in line with other judges in her decisions.
The GOP questioning in the Judiciary committee stuck for many Republicans, though, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said in a floor speech Wednesday that Jackson “never got tough once in this area.”
Democrats criticized the Republicans’ questioning.
“You could try and create a straw man here, but it does not hold,” said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker at the committee’s vote earlier this week. The panel deadlocked on the nomination 11-11, but the Senate voted to discharge it from committee and moved ahead with her confirmation.
In an impassioned moment during the hearings last month, Booker, who is also Black, told Jackson that he felt emotional watching her testify. He said he saw “my ancestors and yours” in her image.
“But don’t worry, my sister,” Booker said. “Don’t worry. God has got you. And how do I know that? Because you’re here, and I know what it’s taken for you to sit in that seat.”
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