On Thursday, the Senate is poised to confirm Supreme Court candidate Ketanji Brown Jackson, making her the first Black woman on the court and offering President Joe Biden a bipartisan vote of confidence in his historic decision.
Three Republican senators have expressed support for Jackson, who would succeed Justice Stephen Breyer, who is retiring this summer. While the vote will be far from the massive bipartisan confirmations for Breyer and other justices seen in previous decades, it will nevertheless be a big bipartisan achievement for Biden in the 50-50 Senate after GOP senators tried hard to characterize Jackson as too liberal and soft on crime.
“It will be a joyful day,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said late Wednesday evening while announcing Thursday’s vote. “It’s a happy day for the Senate, a happy day for the Supreme Court, and a happy day for America.”
Jackson, a 51-year-old federal appeals court judge, would be the third Black and sixth female justice, following Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. On the liberal side of a 6-3 conservative court, she would join two other women, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. For the first time in history, four of the nine justices would be women, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett on the other end of the bench.
Three Republican senators came out and announced they would back Jackson after a grueling hearing in which Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee fiercely probed her over her sentencing record. Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah all expressed the same thing: they didn’t always agree with Jackson, but she was extremely well equipped for the position.
Collins and Murkowski also criticized the increasingly political confirmation process, which Collins described as “broken” and “corrosive” and “more divorced from reality by the year.”
Biden, a veteran of a more nonpartisan Senate, made it clear from the start that he sought bipartisan support for his historic nominee, and he welcomed Republicans to the White House while he made his selection. It was an attempt to reset the clock after three bruising Supreme Court battles during President Donald Trump’s presidency, when Democrats vehemently opposed the nominees, and from the end of President Barack Obama’s presidency, when Republicans blocked Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland from receiving a vote.
Jackson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that her parents’ experiences with lawful racial segregation and civil rights laws adopted a decade before she was born influenced her life.
With her parents and family seated behind her, she informed the panel that as a Black American, her “route was clearer” than theirs. In addition to her nine years on the federal bench, Jackson attended Harvard University, worked as a public defender, worked at a private legal practice, and was named to the United States Sentencing Commission.
“I’ve been a judge for about a decade, and I take my job and duty to be independent extremely seriously,” Jackson added. “I take a neutral stance while deciding cases.” Without fear or favor, I examine the facts and interpret and apply the law to the facts of the case before me, in accordance with my judicial oath.”
After Barrett, who is 50, Jackson will be the court’s second youngest member once sworn in. She would be the first woman to serve on a court with no one above the age of 75 in in three decades.
Cases concerning race, both in college admissions and voting rights, will define Jackson’s first term. She has stated that she would not participate in the court’s review of Harvard’s admissions policy since she is a member of its board of overseers. However, the court may decide to separate a second case involving a challenge to the University of North Carolina’s admissions procedure, allowing her to weigh in on the matter.
Republicans grilled her on her sentencing record on the federal bench, particularly the penalties she gave down in child pornography cases, which they claimed were too low. Jackson slammed the GOP narrative, claiming that “nothing could be farther from the truth” and detailing her rationale. Democrats said that her choices were consistent with those of previous judges.
Many Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, argued in a floor speech Wednesday that Jackson “never got tough once in this area” as a result of GOP questioning in the Judiciary Committee.
Republicans’ questions was chastised by Democrats.
“You may try to make a straw man here, but it’s not going to hold,” New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said during the committee’s vote earlier this week. The nomination was tied 11-11 in committee, but the Senate voted to dismiss it from committee and move on with her confirmation.
During the hearings last month, Booker, who is also Black, told Jackson that witnessing her speak was upsetting for him. In her image, he stated he saw “my forefathers and yours.”
“But don’t be concerned, my sister,” Booker assured her. “Don’t be concerned. You are in God’s hands. What’s more, how do I know that? Because you’ve arrived, and I understand what it took for you to take that seat.”