The Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court Thursday, securing her place as the first Black female justice.
Jackson, a 51 year-old appeals court judge with nine years experience on the federal bench, was confirmed 53-47, mostly along party lines but with three Republican votes. Presiding was Vice President Kamala Harris, also the first Black woman to reach that high office.
Jackson will take her seat when Justice Stephen Breyer retires this summer, joining the liberal wing of the 6-3 conservative-dominated court. She joined Biden at the White House to watch the vote, embracing as it came in.
During the four days of Senate hearings last month, Jackson spoke of her parents’ struggles through racial segregation and said her “path was clearer” than theirs as a Black American after the enactment of civil rights laws. She attended Harvard University, served as a public defender, worked at a private law firm and was appointed as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
She told senators she would apply the law “without fear or favor,” and pushed back on Republican attempts to portray her as too lenient on criminals she had sentenced.
Jackson will be the third Black justice, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and the sixth woman. She will join three other women, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan Amy Coney Barrett – meaning that four of the nine justices will be women for the first time.
Her eventual elevation to the court won't change the balance of conservatives and liberals, it will fulfill President Joe Biden's 2020 campaign pledge to nominate the first Black female justice.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said ahead of the vote that Jackson's confirmation would be a “joyous day -- joyous for the Senate, joyous for the Supreme Court, joyous for America.”
The final tally was far from the overwhelming bipartisan confirmations for Breyer and other justices in decades past, but it was still a significant bipartisan accomplishment for Biden in the 50-50 split Senate after GOP senators aggressively worked to paint Jackson as too liberal and soft on crime.
Statements from Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah all said the same thing — they might not always agree with Jackson, but they found her to be well qualified for the job. Collins and Murkowski both decried increasingly partisan confirmation fights, which only worsened during the battles over Trump’s three picks. Collins said the process was “broken” and Murkowski called it “corrosive” and “more detached from reality by the year.”
Biden, a veteran of a more bipartisan Senate, said from the day of Breyer's retirement announcement in January that he wanted support from both parties for his history-making nominee, and he invited Republicans to the White House as he made his decision. It was an attempted reset from Trump’s presidency, when Democrats vociferously opposed the three nominees, and from the end of President Barack Obama’s, when Republicans blocked nominee Merrick Garland from getting a vote.
Once sworn in, Jackson will be the second youngest member of the court after Barrett, 50. She will join a court on which no one is yet 75, the first time that has happened in nearly 30 years.
Jackson’s first term will be marked by cases involving race, both in college admissions and voting issues. She has pledged to sit out the court’s consideration of Harvard’s admissions program since she is a member of its board of overseers. But the court could split off a second case involving a challenge to the University of North Carolina’s admissions process, which might allow her to weigh in on the issue.
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