The Senate voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on Thursday, clearing the way for her to become the first Black woman to serve on the high court.
The vote was 53-47, reflecting the increasing partisan divisions over recent confirmations of nominees to the bench. Three Republicans — Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney — joined with all members of the Democratic caucus to confirm her.
Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the vote, a rare event in which all members were present in their seats during the roll call. After she announced the final tally, the chamber erupted into sustained applause. Many Republican left the chamber during the ovation, but Romney stayed and clapped.
Major broadcast networks provided special reports of the moment, in addition to cable news networks. There was a moment of some drama, as senators waited for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to show up. After about 15 minutes, he finally did.
Jackson was at the White House, where she watched the roll call vote with President Joe Biden from the Roosevelt Room.
Although her confirmation was never really in doubt, given that Democrats control the Senate, Jackson’s confirmation hearings were surprisingly contentious, as Republican members of the Judiciary Committee raised issues about her sentencing of those convicted of possession of underage child porn, arguing that she had delivered punishment below recommended guidelines. But Democrats saw their questioning as unfair and hypocritical, pointing to instances where Republican-nominated judges to the federal bench had handed down similar reduced sentences.
Jackson, 51, will succeed Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced in January that he planned to retire at the end of the court’s term in late June or early July.
With her presence on the court, the ideological makeup will not change, as she and Breyer are regarded as left-of-center in their views. But as was pointed out during the confirmation hearings, Jackson’s elevation to the highest court will mark a turning point in representation on the Supreme Court. She will not only be the first Black woman to serve, but only the third African-American on the high court, following Justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the confirmation “one of the great moments in American history. This is a great moment for Judge Jackson, but it is even a greater moment for America as we rise to a more perfect union.”
“She embodies the arc of our history,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) said on the floor of the Senate before the vote. He said that she had shown “amazing grace under pressure,” as he noted not just her answers to challenging questions but attacks that were “beyond the pale.”
During her confirmation hearings, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said that Jackson was part of a line of Americans who have faced injustice yet still showed love for the country. He invoked the movie Hidden Figures to make the point that Black women’s historic achievements often have been downplayed or even ignored until decades later.
“You faced insults here that were shocking to me,” he said. “Well, actually not shocking. But you are here because of that kind of love. And nobody is taking this away from you.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) argued that the White House had held back documents from Jackson’s time at the U.S. Sentencing Commission, as well as probation documents. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said that Jackson had “impressive academic and professional qualifications” but couldn’t support her because of the “manner in which she approaches the judicial task.”
“The media has spent a lot of their time talking about the historical nature of this nomination, and indeed it is historical,” said Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). “And Judge Jackson is well educated. She has a wonderful family. She has spent time visiting with us.” Yet Blackburn said that Jackson “is wrong on the issues. When you look at her sentencing practices, when you look at the leniency that she has practiced…these are all issues that cause us tremendous concern.”
"This nomination is confirmed."
U.S. Senate CONFIRMS Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, 53-47.#SCOTUSConfirmation #SCOTUS pic.twitter.com/8XwQBjstUh
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 7, 2022
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