On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, breaking a historic barrier by making her the first Black female judge and providing President Joe Biden with bipartisan support for his pledged endeavor to diversify the court.
Jackson, a 51-year-old appeals court judge with nine years on the federal bench, was approved by a 53-47 majority in the Senate, primarily along party lines but with three Republican votes. Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the vote, making her the first Black woman to hold such a high position.
“We’ve taken another step toward ensuring our highest court represent the diversity of America,” Biden tweeted later. “A beautiful day, a happy day, an inspirational day – for the Senate, for the Supreme Court, and for the United States of America,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“Overjoyed, genuinely affected,” Harris remarked as she walked out of the Capitol.
When Justice Stephen Breyer retires this summer, Jackson will take his place, cementing the liberal flank of the 6-3 conservative-dominated court. She sat with Biden at the White House to watch the vote, embracing him when the results were announced. The two, along with Harris, were scheduled to speak at the White House on Friday.
Jackson spoke on her parents’ difficulties with racial segregation during four days of Senate hearings last month, saying her “road was clearer” as a Black American following the passage of civil rights laws than theirs. She went to Harvard, worked as a public defender, worked at a private legal practice, and was named to the United States Sentencing Commission.
She vowed to senators that she would apply the law “without fear or favor” and fought Republican attempts to paint her as excessively mild on convicts she had jailed.
After Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, Jackson will be the third Black justice and the sixth woman on the Supreme Court. For the first time in history, she will be joined by three other women, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett, making four of the nine justices women.
Barrett’s confirmation will provide a welcome reprieve for Democrats who have battled three times over former President Donald Trump’s nominees and saw Republicans clinch a conservative majority in the last days of Trump’s presidency. While Jackson will not shift the balance of power on the court, she will ensure Biden’s legacy on the bench and allow him to fulfill his 2020 campaign promise of nominating the first Black female justice.
After the vote, White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated, “This is a truly historic day in the White House and in the country.” “This is also a fulfillment of the president’s commitment to the country.”
As the Senate’s votes were cast on Thursday, the mood was upbeat, despite the fact that the Senate was divided. Senators from all parties stepped up from their desks to vote, a custom reserved for the most crucial issues. For the first time since the outbreak two years ago, the top galleries were almost full, and around a dozen House members from the Congressional Black Caucus stood at the back of the room.
Democrats erupted in loud applause and shouts, with Schumer pumping his hands, when Harris announced the score, stopping with emotion. A few Republicans lingered and applauded, but the majority had already departed.
Despite Republican criticism of her record, Jackson received three Republican votes in the end. The final score was far from the bipartisan confirmations for Breyer and other justices seen in previous decades, but it was nevertheless a big victory for Biden in the 50-50 Senate after GOP senators worked hard to portray Jackson as too liberal and soft on crime.
Republican Senators’ Statements Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah all agreed that while they didn’t always agree with Jackson, she was extremely well equipped for the post. Both Collins and Murkowski bemoaned the increasingly acrimonious confirmation battles, which only intensified during the disputes over Trump’s three nominees. Murkowski termed the process “corrosive” and “more distant from reality by the year,” while Collins labeled it “broken.”
Biden, a veteran of a more nonpartisan Senate, stressed from the day Breyer announced his retirement in January that he sought bipartisan support for his historic nominee, and he welcomed Republicans to the White House while he finalized his pick. It was an attempt to turn the clock back from Trump’s administration, when Democrats fought the three nominations vehemently, and from the end of President Barack Obama’s, when Republicans stopped nominee Merrick Garland from receiving a vote.
After Barrett, who is 50, Jackson will be the court’s second youngest member once sworn in. It will be the first time in over 30 years that she will serve on a court with no one above the age of 75.
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.
Jackson will make the court more reflective of the areas that are most touched by the courts, according to Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization.
“The nation’s highest court will now have direct knowledge of how the law affects communities of color, whether via voting rights, police misbehavior, abortion access, housing discrimination, or the criminal justice system,” she added. “In the end, this will benefit all Americans.”
Because the court’s term usually finishes in late June or early July, Jackson may have to wait up to three months to be sworn in. She is still a federal appeals court judge in Washington, although she took a leave of absence when she was nominated in February.
Republicans questioned her sentencing record during her confirmation hearings, particularly the punishments she handed down in child pornography cases, which they claimed were too low. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Jackson claimed, before going into depth about 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 the GOP grilling 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 Black, informed Jackson that he was moved by her testimony in an emotional moment. In her image, he stated he saw “my forefathers and yours.”
“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.”