Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is one step closer to the Supreme Court after the Senate dislodged her nomination from a deadlocked Judiciary committee, a rare step for a high court hopeful.
In a 53-47 vote, the Senate voted to advance Jackson’s nomination out of committee, with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) joining all 50 members of the Democratic caucus in supporting Biden’s high court pick. All three of those senators have now said they will support Jackson’s confirmation to the high court.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had to move to discharge the nomination due to an 11-11 tie in the judiciary panel, which fell along party lines. He said that the procedural vote should be “entirely unnecessary,” but he added it would not change the outcome. Democratic leaders are aiming to confirm Jackson to become the first Black female Supreme Court Justice by the end of the week.
“There is no question, no question that Judge Jackson deserves a strong bipartisan vote in committee,” Schumer said. “We shouldn’t have to be taking this step, but we are moving forward all the same without delay. Despite Republicans opposing her in committee and despite the procedural vote tonight, Judge Jackson ultimately has enough support to get confirmed on a bipartisan basis.”
Despite the evenly split panel vote Monday evening, President Joe Biden’s White House saw Jackson’s bipartisan margin of support grow, with Murkowski and Romney announcing Monday evening that they would support her bid. Collins had previously announced she’d back Jackson. Biden had personally called all three senators about the Supreme Court vacancy, after Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement.
In their statements of support, both Republican senators highlighted Jackson’s qualifications. Romney said that Jackson “more than meets the standard of excellence and integrity.” Murkowski, meanwhile, added that her support “rests on my rejection of the corrosive politicization of the review process for Supreme Court nominees.”
Murkowski and Collins had supported Jackson’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, while Romney previously voted against her. But Romney had indicated that his review of her Supreme Court nomination would be different.
The timing of Monday’s Judiciary committee vote was later than expected after Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), a member of the panel, faced a flight delay. But the vote tally was all but sealed, after Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) announced they would vote against Jackson ahead of the hearing. Democrats had privately hoped those two senators would consider supporting Jackson or abstaining, given their comparatively friendly style of questioning during her confirmation hearings.
Senate Republicans in their opposition cited Jackson’s decision not to comment on adding seats to the Supreme Court as well as her sentencing record for child pornography cases. (Jackson’s defenders are quick to note that her sentencing record is in line with the vast majority of Democratic and Republican-appointed federal judges, and that conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett said that the size of the Supreme Court is a “question left open for Congress.”) GOP senators also expressed concerns about her judicial philosophy, as well as her representation of Guantanamo Bay detainees while she was a public defender.
In his statement Monday, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the committee, said that he and Jackson have “fundamentally different views on the role judges should play in our system of government.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who supported Jackson’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year, said she would be the first Supreme Court nominee he’d oppose.
“This choice of Judge Jackson was really embraced by the most radical people in the Democratic movement, to the exclusion of everybody else,” Graham said. “If we get back the Senate and we’re in charge of this body and there’s judicial openings, we will talk to our colleagues on the other side, but if we were in charge she would not be before the committee.”
Despite GOP opposition in committee, Jackson appears to be on a glide path to replacing retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court. With support from three Senate Republicans, Democrats now have a significant cushion in case there are absences this week.
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