Saturday, April 9, 2022
On Thursday, the United States Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, becoming the first African American woman to sit on the Court.
The vote was 53 in favor of Jackson and 47 opposed, largely split along party lines between Democrats and Republicans, respectively. Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) broke ranks with their fellow Republicans to cast votes for Jackson. Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the vote. Had there been a deadlock, she would have cast a tiebreaking vote.
Jackson and President Joe Biden watched the proceedings from the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Biden nominated Jackson on February 25 to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. In 2020, Biden promised while running for President to nominate a African American woman to the Supreme Court, the country’s highest. Presidential nominations are required to be confirmed by the Senate.
On March 21, Jackson was introduced to the Senate by Thomas B. Griffith, a former judge on the Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C. During her opening remarks, Jackson said: “My parents taught me that unlike the many barriers that they had to face growing up, my path was clearer, so that if I worked hard and believed in myself, in [the US] I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be.”
She closed with: “Members of this committee, if I am confirmed, I commit to you that I will work productively to support and defend the Constitution and this grand experiment of American democracy that has endured over these past 246 years. During this hearing I hope that you will see how much I love our country and the Constitution and the rights that make us free.”
On the second day of confirmation hearings, Senator Josh Hawley (Republican; Missouri) challenged Jackson on child pornography cases over which she had presided. He questioned a three-month prison sentence handed out by Jackson in United States v. Hawkins where the prosecution had sought two years imprisonment. Federal Sentencing Guidelines recommended eight years in the case, based on the number of images. Jackson responded that she disagrees with the current guidelines, arguing they fail to differentiate defendants, and are contentious by the Sentencing Commission.
Jackson explained: “Congress has given the judges not only the discretion to make the decision but required judges to do so on an individualized basis taking into account not only the guidelines but also various factors including the age of the defendant, the circumstances of the defendant.” The defendant in the case was eighteen years old.
On the third day of the hearings, Jackson was pressed on how to apply Constitutional provisions written over two hundred years ago, to current issues. Jackson responded: “It’s a process of understanding what the core foundational principles are in the Constitution, as captured by the text, as originally intended, and then applying those principles to modern day.”
Senators Lindsey Graham (Republican; South Carolina) and Ted Cruz (Republican; Texas) continued a line of questioning from Tuesday on light sentences which led head of the Judiciary Committee Senator Dick Durbin (Democrat; Illinois) to intervene numerous times on Jackson’s behalf. While Durbin said Jackson was being interrupted, he was accused of filibustering in the nominee’s favor.
On the fourth and final day of the hearing on March 24, Durbin announced the Judiciary Committee would meet on March 28, potentially setting up a vote on Jackson for April 4. That day, Jackson herself was not present on March 24 as the Senate heard testimony from other parties, such as Wade Henderson, president of nonprofit group the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Henderson said of Jackson: “Her background is absolutely extraordinary and her demonstration and mastery of the law is second to none.”
Senator Marsha Blackburn (Republican; Tennessee) requested access to confidential pre-sentencing reports in Jackson’s past child pornography cases. Reports of this nature are confidential to protect the victims. Durbin refused, saying: “I would not want that on my conscience, that we did this for some political exercise here, which I think is totally unnecessary, and someone was harmed as a result of it. I’m going to resist it every step of the way.”
On April 4, the Judiciary Committee voted 11-11 on Jackson, a deadlock broken by a vote called by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (New York) which sent it to the Senate floor.
Prior to her nomination, Jackson served as a clerk for Breyer, a federal public defender, a federal district court judge and a member of the sentencing commission, as well as an attorney in private practice.
The Supreme Court has eight associate justices and one chief justice.