Biden’s Supreme Court pick Jackson faces U.S. Senate panel vote

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson meets with U.S. Senator Mitt Romney, in Washington
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson meets with U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) (not pictured), in his office at the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC, U.S., March 29, 2022.
Reuters file

By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON – Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, faces another hurdle on Monday in her journey toward Senate confirmation with a vote in a Judiciary Committee evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans that could end up a tie.

Even with a possible 11-11 committee deadlock, Jackson’s nomination still would proceed to the full Senate, with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last week saying the chamber was on track to confirm the federal appellate court judge to the lifetime post before its planned Easter recess begins on Friday.

If confirmed, Jackson would become the first Black woman to serve on the top U.S. judiciary body, joining the liberal bloc on a court with a 6-3 conservative majority.

The committee meets at 10 a.m. During her confirmation hearing before the panel last month, Biden’s fellow Democrats expressed support for Jackson while Republicans signaled opposition.

With a simple majority needed for confirmation and the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties, Jackson would get the job if Democrats remain united regardless of how the Republicans vote. Biden’s fellow Democrats control the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote.

Senator Susan Collins last Wednesday became the first Republican to announce support for Jackson’s confirmation while also criticizing the current judicial confirmation process as too politicized. Senator Joe Manchin, the Senate’s most conservative Democrat, also has announced support for Jackson.

The process for confirming Supreme Court nominees has become increasingly contentious in recent years. While nominees in decades past often received large Senate majorities, recent votes have been far closer, divided along party lines in a Washington increasingly beset with partisan rancor.

For instance, Republican President Donald Trump’s first appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, was confirmed in 2017 on a 54-45 vote for a seat previously occupied by the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who was confirmed 98-0 in 1986.

Gorsuch’s confirmation followed a partisan brawl after Senate Republicans, then in the majority, refused the prior year to consider Democratic President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to replace Scalia after his death.

Trump’s second appointee Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed 50-48 in 2018 after a contentious confirmation process in which he denied sexual misconduct allegations, and Trump’s third appointee Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed 52-48 in 2020 after being nominated just weeks before a presidential election.

Jackson, if confirmed, would replace retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, who was confirmed 87-9 in 1994.

During her confirmation hearings, Jackson, 51, pledged independence if confirmed and embraced a limited role for jurists. She also reflected on opportunities she has had that her parents, who grew up in era of racial segregation in the South, did not.

Several Republican senators used the hearings to accuse her of being lenient on child pornography offenders during her time as a federal trial court judge. Jackson defended her record, saying she did her “duty to hold the defendants accountable.” Sentencing experts called the penalties she imposed within the mainstream among federal judges, while American Bar Association witnesses rejected claims that Jackson was “soft on crime.”

Sex crimes involving children have become a theme among far-right activists on social media and of the unfounded QAnon conspiracy theory, whose followers cast elite liberals and Democrats as a cabal of pedophiles.

“Now this may play well to the QAnon crowd and the fringe conspiracy theories who helped drive the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, but the American public sees it for what it is,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, the committee’s chairman, said last week in reference to the Republican line of questioning.

The committee’s tally is expected to be a deadlock after Senator Lindsay Graham, its sole Republican to vote to confirm Jackson last June for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said he would vote no this time.

A tied committee vote would not block Jackson’s nomination, as Democrats would be expected to hold a vote on the Senate floor that would let it proceed. Democrats expect a final Senate confirmation vote on Thursday or Friday.

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