Senate confirms Jackson as first black woman in court

WASHINGTON (BP) — The U.S. Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson Thursday, April 7, as the first African-American woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Ketanji Brown Jackson
Rose Lincoln/Harvard Photographer. From Wikimedia Commons

The evenly divided Senate voted 53-47 for Jackson’s confirmation on the Supreme Court, with three Republicans joining all Democrats in supporting the federal Circuit Court judge. She will replace Associate Justice Stephen Breyer after his retirement when the High Court adjourns this summer.

Confirmation for President Biden’s first Supreme Court nominee came despite opposition from all GOP members except Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah. Some Republican opponents have expressed disagreement with their legal philosophy or their sentencing decisions in child pornography cases. Pro-life advocates have expressed concern about their expected abortion law decisions.

Jackson’s confirmation will not appear to change the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court, which is normally thought to have a 6-3 split in favor of Conservatives. Breyer was typically aligned with Liberals on the pitch. Biden’s selection of Jackson and views from both sides of the political aisle have contributed to the assumption that she will also be part of the liberal wing.

“Despite the philosophical and legal differences individuals like me will have with her, Judge Jackson’s confirmation is a historic moment,” said Brent Leatherwood, acting president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We should value it as such. If we lose that ability, we lose something that makes America an extraordinary nation.”

In written comments, Leatherwood said he prays “that when she joins the nation’s highest court, she will rule cases concerning human dignity, religious liberty and protection of the family based on the fundamental principles of our country.”

Jackson, 51, will become the fourth female Supreme Court justice when she succeeds Breyer, marking the first time so many women have been among the nine members at the same time. She will join Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett. Jackson will be the youngest current judge, except for Barrett, 50, who was nominated by President Trump in 2020. She will also be the sixth female Justice in Supreme Court history, joining current members and former Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

As a judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Jackson becomes the third African American to be confirmed in the Supreme Court. She joins the late Thurgood Marshall, who served as Associate Justice from 1967 to 1991, and current Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, who has been with the Court since 1991.

Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York told the Senate ahead of Thursday’s vote that the “milestone should have happened generations ago,” but today “he’s taking a giant step to make our Union more perfect.”

Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Jackson’s April 4 qualifications were “unmatched.”

“Judge Jackson has the temper, the acumen, the skills and the kind of qualities that we look for in a Supreme Court nominee,” he said. “She is committed to protecting the independence of the judiciary, promoting liberty and liberty, and making the court, its work, and its decisions accessible to all Americans.”

Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska reasoned his rejection on March 25 after the Judiciary Committee hearing concluded that he “unfortunately is unable to vote for this confirmation.”

“Judge Jackson has impeccable testimonies and a deep knowledge of the law, but not only has she refused this week to claim originalism as her philosophy of law, she has refused to claim any philosophy of law at all,” said Sasse, a member of the Judiciary Committee, in a written statement.

Originalism seeks to interpret the constitution based on its original meaning and to analyze laws according to their text.

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, said in an April 4 statement, “The historic nature of Judge Jackson’s nomination validates the progress our country has made. However, ideology must be the determining factor – not identity – when considering such an important life appointment. It is clear that Justice Jackson’s legal philosophy and positions on the crucial issues of our time make her the wrong choice for the Supreme Court.”

Some Republicans on the Judiciary Committee criticized Jackson for handing out sentences that were less lenient than federal guidelines in child pornography cases. Jackson defended himself, saying federal law requires a judge to consider other factors as well to determine a sentence sufficient for the offense.

Although Jackson has not commented on an abortion case, some organizations on both sides of the issue have shown through their comments that they expect her to support the right to the procedure. As a member of a Boston law firm, Jackson and other attorneys filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief in 2001 to support a law in Massachusetts that, according to the SCOTUSblog, created a moving “buffer zone” around people and cars in set up near abortion clinics.

Ahead of Thursday’s confirmation roll call, senators voted 53 to 47 to invoke Cloture, an act that limited debate and prevented Republicans from blocking the vote to confirm Jackson. Collins, Murkowski and Romney joined the Democrats in the majority.

The Judiciary Committee, which is evenly split among its 22 members by political party, stalled 11:11 on its April 4 vote to forward Jackson’s nomination. However, later in the day, the entire Senate, by a vote of 53 to 47, approved a petition to have her nomination removed from committee. Senators voted the same as they did Thursday to invoke Cloture and confirm Jackson.

The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary notified the leadership of the Judiciary Committee in a March 18 letter that Jackson was unanimously found “well qualified” to serve on the Supreme Court.

Biden pledged to select a black woman for the Supreme Court during the 2020 presidential campaign.

Jackson served as clerk for Breyer during the 1999-2000 High Court tenure. Breyer will have been in office for almost 28 years after his retirement.

President Obama nominated Jackson for the district of Columbia federal judge, and the Senate confirmed her in 2013. Jackson was selected by Biden for the DC Circuit Court last year and received 53 votes to 44 for confirmation in June. Three Republicans — Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Collins and Murkowski — joined the Democrats to confirm her.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1996, Jackson served in various public and private capacities. These included a two-year service as a federal public defender in Washington, DC, as well as a stint on the staff of the US Sentencing Commission and another as vice chairman of the commission.

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