WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon, making her the 116th justice – and first Black woman – to serve on the nation’s highest court.
The Senate’s historic vote was 53-47 with three Republicans – Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah joining every member of the Democratic caucus in voting for her confirmation.
President Joe Biden nominated Jackson in February, after Associate Justice Stephen Breyer announced he would retire at the end of the current short term. Though confirmed, Jackson will wait months to take her seat on the bench, until Breyer officially steps down.
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While Jackson’s ascension will not change the ideological makeup of the court – where conservatives hold a 6-3 advantage – she will be the first federal public defender to sit on the high court. Of the 115 justices in the Supreme Court’s 233 year history, 108 have been white men. Only five have been women, and three have been people of color.
When Jackson takes her seat, it will mark the first time the court’s nine-member bench will include two Black justices and four female justices.
Judge Jackson’s confirmation was a historic moment for our nation,” Biden tweeted after the vote. “We’ve taken another step toward making our highest court reflect the diversity of America. She will be an incredible Justice, and I was honored to share this moment with her.”
Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black woman to serve in her role, presided over the Senate for the vote. Almost every senator was in their seat, announcing their vote aloud one-by-one alphabetically before Harris read the final tally to the packed chamber.
“It’s an extraordinary day, and I think it’s a very important statement today about who we are as a nation that we put Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on the highest court of our land,” a “very proud” Harris told reporters after the vote.
“I think it makes a very important statement about who we aspire to be, who we are, who we believe ourselves to be,” she said. “It’s a statement that on our highest court in the land we want to make sure there’s going to be full representation, and the finest and the brightest and the best, and that’s what happened today.”
Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J., one of only three Black senators – none of whom are women – , told USA Today that Harris encouraged him and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., to write letters to young girls in their life. Harris gave them paper from her office, which features a gold seal and says “The Vice President.”
“Seeing Judge Jackson ascend to the Supreme Court reflects the promise of progress on which our democracy risks. What a great day it is in America,” said Warnock. “Today, the word of justice and equal protection under the law becomes flesh.”
Biden and Jackson watched the results of the Senate vote on her nomination in the Roosevelt Room, alongside other White House senior staff. Biden, Harris and Jackson will deliver remarks on the judge’s confirmation Friday on the South Lawn of the White House.
The momentous vote was temporarily overshadowed by the news of a COVID outbreak among several lawmakers who attended Saturday’s Gridiron dinner featuring journalists and politicians. Several senators attended the dinner but all of them showed up for Thursday’s vote.
Jackson currently serves on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, a role she was appointed to by Biden. She previously served as a US District Court judge, a position she was appointed to form President Barack Obama. Before that, the Harvard Law School graduate served vice chair of the US Sentencing Commission, and as a federal public defender.
Jackson, a former clerk for Breyer, was considered a front-runner for Biden’s first Supreme Court nomination. Her expected confirmation marks the fourth time she was approved by the Senate. She was confirmed to her role on the Court of Appeals with bipartisan support last year, with GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina joining Sens. Collins and Murkowski in voting for her.
Jackson’s nomination marks a fulfillment of Biden’s campaign promise to nominate a Black woman to the high court. During a primary debate in South Carolina in 2020, Biden said “I’m looking forward to making sure there’s a Black woman on the Supreme Court, to make sure we in fact get every representation.”
With much of Biden’s agenda held up in the 50-50 Senate, Jackson’s confirmation will be one of the lasting legacies of his first term. And Democratic senators made sure to highlight the significance of the moment.
More:Jackson likely confirmed in a hurry. Getting on the Supreme Court? That’ll take time.
Despite her earlier confirmations, the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Jackson’s nomination still took an acrimonious turn.
While Republican members of the committee largely praised Jackson’s character and demeanor, they accused her on being soft on crime – in particular, they said she offered too-lenient sentences in a number of child pornography cases. GOP Senators on the committee like Graham, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Josh Hawley of Missouri led the crusade against Jackson. In addition to her record on sentencing, they pushed Jackson on hot political topics like gender, packing the court and critical race theory. Some Republicans also took issue with her defending Guantanamo Bay detainees as a public defender.
“Based on her record, I believe she will prove to be the furthest left of any justice who has ever served on the Supreme Court,” Cruz said ahead of the vote Thursday.
More:Judicial philosophy to child porn sentencing: Key takeaways from Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court hearings
Democrats, meanwhile, have stressed the historic nature of Jackson’s nomination and what it means to have a Black woman join the court.
During one of the hearings, Jackson teared up as Bookerspoke about how meaningful her nomination was to him.
“You have earned this spot. You are worthy,” Booker told Jackson.
“I’m sorry, you’re a person that is so much more than your race and gender,” he said. “But for me, I’m sorry, it’s hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom, not to see my cousins. … I see my ancestors and yours.”
Contributing: John Fritze, Rebecca Morin