Ketanji Brown Jackson Confirmed as Supreme Court Justice

Rohit De

On April 7, 2022, Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a vote of 53 to 47 in the United States Senate. She will become the first black woman to serve on the court, making this confirmation historic.


Jackson was nominated to replace the retiring liberal justice Stephen Breyer on February 25. President Joe Biden had pledged to nominate the first black woman to the Supreme Court during the Democratic presidential primaries two years ago, and he fulfilled that promise.


Jackson had previously served as a clerk to Justice Breyer, a public defender, vice chair of the United States Sentencing Commission (with a unanimous confirmation vote), and as a judge on the US District Court for D.C. (from 2013 to 2021). She has been serving on the D.C. Circuit Court since 2021, having been nominated by Biden and confirmed 53-44 by the Senate, with the support of all Democratic Senators and Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. (Graham was one of the main senators opposing this confirmation, however1q.)


Jackson’s confirmation hearings began on March 21 and lasted four days, with her appearing in front of the Senate for the first three days. The hearings became more intense as they went on, echoing the contentious nomination processes of Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Amy Coney Barrett in 2020. Republicans pressed Jackson on her record in law, including over what they perceived to be lenient sentencing in some child pornography cases. (However, there has been some bipartisan criticism of the harshness of the federal sentencing guidelines in some cases, and most prison sentences in these cases, like those of Jackson, are below these federal guidelines.) Elements of future midterm messaging also made their way into these hearings.


In her hearings, Jackson declined to put a specific label on her judicial philosophy. She presented herself as trying to remain neutral, “staying in her lane” in regards to judicial authority, and using a more methodical, case-by-case approach. Her cited methodology includes clearing her mind of any preconceived biases before the case, listening to the relevant arguments in cases, and applying the law to the case. Jackson also pledged to recuse herself from an upcoming Supreme Court case involving Harvard’s admission policies, as she is a member of one of Harvard’s governing boards.


The historic nature of this confirmation was also touched upon, particularly by Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey (who is black himself). Jackson spoke about her parents’ struggle through racial segregation: born in 1970, she grew up in Florida, where her parents had attended segregated schools. She will now become the first black woman, third black justice and sixth female justice to serve on the court, and she hopes to serve as an inspiration to those following her. 


Because the Democrats control the 50-50 Senate through Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie breaking vote, they did not need any Republican support to confirm Jackson to the Supreme Court, but President Biden wanted a bipartisan confirmation vote. Although the vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee to advance her nomination deadlocked 11-11 on April 4, the Senate voted to advance it to a final vote. On April 7, 2022, Jackson was confirmed by a 53 to 47 vote, with all Democrats and 3 Republicans voting in favor of her. Those three Republicans were Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah. Collins and Murkowski are moderate and bipartisan senators and both of them voted in favor of Jackson’s confirmation to the D.C. Circuit Court in 2021. (However, Murkowski is facing a tough re-election battle against a fellow Republican.) Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor, has become more bipartisan in the Senate. Supreme Court nominations have become less and less bipartisan over time; Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 confirmation had support from only one Democrat (Joe Manchin of West Virginia – he has become a lot more relevant since last year), and Amy Coney Barrett’s 2020 vote had no Democratic support at all.


Jackson’s confirmation maintains the 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court. She will be sworn in once Justice Breyer officially retires at the end of the Court’s 2021-2022 term, which could be in late June or early July.


Sources: (previous Rock Report article) (NPR) (CBS — partial) (Fox News — partial) (Associated Press) (Associated Press) (Associated Press) (Wall Street Journal)

Image Source: (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)