Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson (Photo: Screenshot from Senate Judiciary Committee livestream.)
The U.S. Senate advanced Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic Supreme Court nomination in a 53-47 procedural vote Monday evening, hours after the Judiciary Committee deadlocked along party lines.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah voted with all 50 Senate Democrats on the procedural vote Monday. The same 53-member bloc is expected to vote to confirm Jackson later this week and make her the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court.
The 11-11 committee vote earlier Monday, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed, forced the additional floor vote for President Joe Biden’s pick to succeed retiring Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York lamented on the Senate floor Monday that committee Republicans made Jackson face the additional hurdle. A simple majority of committee members would have been enough to send her nomination to the floor.
“This procedural step should be entirely unnecessary,” Schumer said. “There is no question — no question — that Judge Jackson deserves a strong bipartisan vote in committee. But sadly, despite the judge’s qualifications, not a single Republican on the committee voted to report her out of committee.”
Senators of both parties praised Jackson’s qualifications and experience in the weeks since Biden nominated her to replace retiring Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.
Jackson was a federal trial judge before taking her current seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. She was also vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and clerked for judges at all levels of the federal judiciary, including Breyer.
Originally from Miami, she is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
Judiciary Committee splits
Senators of both parties praised Jackson’s character during the committee meeting Monday, even as Republicans renewed objections to a judicial philosophy they said does not closely enough adhere to legislative text and a sentencing record they said was too lenient.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, was the only member of the panel to switch his position on Jackson from the 2021 vote to confirm her for her current seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Graham was one of three Senate Republicans — Collins and Murkowski were the others — to vote in favor of Jackson last year.
Monday, Graham, who had never before voted against a Supreme Court nominee, complained about rising partisanship on judicial confirmations over the last two decades and previewed an escalation in that realm.
If Republicans retake the Senate, Graham said, a nominee like Jackson would not even be considered.
“If we’re in charge, she would not have been before this committee,” he said. “You would have had somebody more moderate than this.”
Graham had lobbied for Biden to nominate South Carolina District Court Judge Michelle Childs for the position instead of Jackson.
Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said Monday that most Republicans on the committee conducted themselves well and asked fair questions over 24 hours of hearings last month. Some, though, went too far in questioning Jackson on child pornography cases while they “interrupted and badgered” her, Durbin said.
“It is unfortunate that some moments in our hearing came to that,” he said. “But if there is one positive to take away from these attacks on her, it is that the nation saw the temperament of a good, strong person ready to serve on the highest court of the land.”
The panel’s leading Republican, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said he couldn’t vote for Jackson, despite her qualifications, because he disagreed with her judicial philosophy. He blamed Democrats and Schumer for introducing that criterion.
During the George W. Bush administration, Schumer, a New York Democrat, threatened to filibuster judicial nominees over differences in ideology. He told a Buffalo newspaper in 2003 he was proud of that role.
People in Tennessee, they know what a woman is. They don't need a biologist to tell them.
– Tennessee GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn on Jackson
“Sen. Schumer, 18 years later, are you still proud that you poisoned the water on judicial nominees?” Grassley said Monday. “Now he and other Democrats think it’s unfair that we looked at Judge Jackson’s record and asked her about it. That doesn’t hold up to even the slightest scrutiny.”
U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who, along with Texas’ Ted Cruz, led the Republican the effort to discredit Jackson’s sentencing record on child pornography cases, said Monday his policy disagreement with Jackson prevented him from supporting her.
“My fundamental disagreement with Judge Jackson is not based on her character, her integrity, or her accomplishments. I think those things are beyond question,” Hawley said. “It’s based on her policy and her philosophy. And I think on these court issues, she is just dead wrong.”
Democrats said Republicans distorted Jackson’s sentencing record, noting that her sentencing was in line with most other federal judges.
Representatives for the American Bar Association, the largest legal professional group in the United States that gave Jackson its highest rating of well qualified, also told the committee last month that Jackson’s sentencing was within the mainstream of American judges.
Between the votes in committee and on the floor Monday, Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn gave a 15-minute speech criticizing many of the Biden administration’s policies.
She reserved one line in the speech for Jackson, who had declined to answer when Blackburn asked her during confirmation hearings to define the word “woman.” Jackson had said she was not a biologist and the question was not relevant to her legal work.
“People in Tennessee, they know what a woman is,” Blackburn said Monday. “They don’t need a biologist to tell them.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee vote was delayed several hours as Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., was late in arriving on a flight from Los Angeles, due to another passenger’s medical emergency, Durbin said.
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