Senate panel moves toward vote on Jackson court nomination

Ketanji Brown Jackson
Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson smiles as Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., arrives for a meeting in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 31, 2022.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

By MARY CLARE JALONICK and KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press

The Senate Judiciary Committee debated Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination for Supreme Court justice on Monday with Democrats aiming to confirm her by the end of the week as the first Black woman on the high court.

The panel recessed at midday after one of the Democrats, California Sen. Alex Padilla, was delayed on a flight. The committee was expected to vote later in the day and deadlock on the nomination, 11-11. All of the Republicans on the panel are opposing Jackson, and the full Senate is evenly split 50-50.

If the committee deadlocks, Democrats are expected to immediately move to the Senate floor to “discharge” Jackson’s nomination. While that won’t delay the process for long, it is still another blow for Democrats who had hoped to confirm Jackson with bipartisan support.

President Joe Biden urged senators to support her in a tweet as the committee meeting began.

“Judge Jackson will bring extraordinary qualifications, deep experience and intellect, and a rigorous judicial record to the Supreme Court,” Biden tweeted. “She deserves to be confirmed as the next justice.”

The discharge vote, expected late Monday, would be the first of several procedural steps on the Senate floor with a goal of a final confirmation vote by Friday. With the support of at least one Republican, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Jackson is on a glidepath toward confirmation to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.

After more than 30 hours of hearings and interrogation from Republicans over her record, Jackson is on the brink of making history as the third Black justice and only the sixth woman in the court’s more than 200-year history. Democrats cite her deep experience in nine years on the federal bench and the chance for her to become the first former public defender on the court.

The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said as he opened Monday’s meeting that Jackson has “the highest level of skill, integrity, civility and grace.”

“This committee’s action today in nothing less than making history,” Durbin said. “I’m honored to be a part of it. I will strongly and proudly support Judge Jackson’s nomination.”

The committee’s top Republican, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, said he was opposing Jackson’s nomination because “she and I have fundamental, different views on the role of judges and the role that they should play in our system of government.”

The committee hasn’t deadlocked since 1991, when Biden was chairman of the panel and a motion to send the nomination of current Justice Clarence Thomas to the floor with a “favorable” recommendation failed on a 7-7 vote. The committee then voted to send the nomination to the floor without a recommendation, meaning it could still be brought up for a vote.

A deadlocked vote on Jackson would be “a truly unfortunate signal of the continued descent into dysfunction of our confirmation process,” Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat on the committee, said last week.

So far, Democrats know they will have at least one GOP vote in favor on the floor — Collins, who announced last week that she will support the nominee. Collins said that even though she may not always agree with her, Jackson “possesses the experience, qualifications and integrity to serve as an associate justice on the Supreme Court.”

It’s unclear so far whether any other Republicans will join her. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky set the tone for the party last week when he said he “cannot and will not” support Jackson, citing GOP concerns raised in the hearing about her sentencing record and her support from liberal advocacy groups.

Republicans on the Judiciary panel continued their push Monday to paint Jackson as soft on crime, defending their repeated questions about her sentencing on sex crimes.

“Questions are not attacks,” said Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, one of several GOP senators on the panel who hammered the point in the hearings two weeks ago.

Jackson pushed back at that time, declaring that “nothing could be further from the truth.” Democrats said she was in line with other judges in her decisions. And on Monday they criticized their GOP counterparts for their aggressive questioning.

“You could try and create a straw man here but it does not hold,” said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

The questioning was filled with “absurdities of disrespect,” said Booker, who also is black, and he said he will “rejoice” when she is confirmed.

Collins and Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were the only three to vote for Jackson when the Senate confirmed her as an appeals court judge last year. Graham said Thursday he won’t support her this time around; Murkowski says she’s still deciding.

Collins’ support likely saves Democrats from having to use Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote to confirm Biden’s pick, and the president called Collins on Wednesday to thank her. Biden had called her at least three times before the hearings, part of a major effort to win a bipartisan vote for his historic nominee.

It is expected that all 50 Democrats will support Jackson, though one notable moderate Democrat, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, hasn’t yet said how she will vote.

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed.

 

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