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Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed as first Black woman on Supreme Court

The Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court Thursday afternoon, marking a historic moment for the high court and a massive victory for President Joe Biden.

Jackson was approved, 53-47, on Thursday afternoon with the support of three Republicans. The vote makes Jackson the first Black female justice and delivers Democrats their first high-court seat in 12 years.

Vice President Kamala Harris, the first female Black vice president, oversaw the vote in a Senate chamber packed for the occasion. Senators voted from their desks, a decorum befitting the gravity of the confirmation vote of a Supreme Court justice.

“This is a great moment for Judge Jackson. But it is an even greater moment for America, as we rise to a more perfect union,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said ahead of the vote.

Jackson’s ascension to the Supreme Court is one of the most consequential moves by President Joe Biden and Democrats controlling Congress. It constitutes a huge win for the president as well as Schumer and Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Schumer called it a “joyous, momentous, groundbreaking day.”

Thursday’s vote fulfilled Biden’s campaign promise to appoint the first-ever Black woman to the high court; Jackson will also be just the third Black Supreme Court justice in U.S. history. Additionally, Jackson will be the only sitting justice with experience as a public defender.

“I think [Biden] will likely say at the end of his term, whenever that might be, that this will be one of the most significant things that he has done. Because it is that important to history,” said former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who has helped guide Jackson to confirmation as her so-called Sherpa.

Jackson’s confirmation, roughly six weeks after her nomination, will put her in line to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, who is expected to step down later this year. It’s a rapid ascent for the 51-year-old Jackson, who was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit just last June.

All 50 Senate Democratic Caucus members supported Jackson as well as Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah, which led to the highest Supreme Court vote total since Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed with 54 votes in 2017. Jackson cleared a filibuster 53-47 on Thursday afternoon and was confirmed roughly two hours later.

“I’m a senator, I’m a pastor, but beyond all of that I’m the father of a young Black girl. I know how much it means for Judge Jackson to have navigated the double jeopardy of racism and sexism to now stand in the glory of this moment,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), one of three Black senators. “What a great day it is in America.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) held up the vote for several minutes, arriving late and voting no. During the vote, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), appeared overcome with emotion.

And after the vote was closed the chamber and spectators burst into applause — with Romney and Murkowski standing and clapping for Jackson’s confirmation. Durbin shook hands with the trio of Republicans who gave her bipartisan support.

Though Jackson will replace Breyer and not alter the balance of the court, her approval by the Senate is a shot in the arm to Democrats that saw former President Donald Trump approve three high-court justices in just four years after GOP Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the party from filling a vacancy in 2016.

McConnell said Biden set out to nominate a “judicial activist” and argued she had failed to persuade the vast majority of his conference otherwise. Still, he and other GOP leaders have not gone as hard as they could have against her nomination, declining to boycott her committee hearing and allowing her to move forward.

Nonetheless, McConnell defended the tough questions Jackson faced by some Republicans during last month’s hearings.

“No nominee before the Senate for any position deserves a cakewalk or a coronation. Tough questions about a federal judge’s own rulings and statements are the definition of fair game,” McConnell said shortly before the vote.

Jackson’s confirmation met Democrats’ self-imposed April deadline, a goal they set before Biden formally announced his pick. After Jackson’s final confirmation, the Senate left for a two-week Easter recess.

While Jackson’s support is bipartisan, her path to the court faced stern opposition from high-profile conservatives. And the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on her nomination earlier in the week, amid unanimous opposition from the panel’s Republicans. That forced Schumer to hold an additional procedural vote this week to consider her nomination on the floor, a rare move for a high-court nominee and a reflection both of the evenly divided Senate and the bitter nature of modern-day Supreme Court confirmations.

Jackson’s hearings before the Judiciary Committee were contentious, with Senate Republicans accusing of her of a lenient sentencing record for child pornography cases. Jackson’s defenders argue that her record is in line with the vast majority of federal judges.

Republicans cited concerns about a brief Jackson wrote while representing Guantanamo Bay detainees as a public defender. They also pressed Jackson on whether she supported adding seats to the Supreme Court, noting that Breyer and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg opposed the idea. Jackson replied that that was for Congress to decide, harmonizing with Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s answer to a similar question in 2020.

Her support on Thursday includes two old GOP allies and one new one. Collins and Murkowski supported her ascension to the D.C. Circuit, but Romney voted against her for the lower court. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was the third Republican who voted to confirm her to the D.C. Circuit, but he came out against her high court nomination after stumping for South Carolina Judge J. Michelle Childs.

Prior to her role as a circuit judge, Jackson was a district court judge for the District of Columbia and served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. She also is a former Supreme Court clerk for Breyer.

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