The Senate officially confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court Thursday, making her the first black woman and first former federal public defender to be elevated to the nation’s highest court.
Three Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah — voted with all 50 Democrats to confirm President Biden’s nomination of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals judge. Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the vote, which was held up for several minutes to allow Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to cast a “no” vote.
Jackson, 51, joined Biden at the White House to watch the vote unfold in the Roosevelt Room of the executive mansion. She will be sworn in to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer and will join the Supreme Court at the start of its next term in October.
The judge’s confirmation does not alter the current ideological composition of the court, which currently has six conservatives and three liberals, including Breyer.
Biden announced the nomination of Jackson in February, after vowing during the 2020 presidential campaign to pick a black woman for the high court.
Jackson’s confirmation comes three days after the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked 11-11 on her nomination, the panel’s first tie vote on a Supreme Court nominee since Clarence Thomas in 1991.
The split forced Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer to call a vote discharging the committee from further consideration of Jackson and bringing the nomination before the full Senate.
With only 51 votes needed and Harris waiting to break any ties if necessary, Jackson’s confirmation had always been seen as likely. Moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia virtually ensured it would happen when he announced March 25 that he would support Jackson for the high court. Collins’ announcement last week that she would vote to confirm Jackson ensured bipartisan support for the nominee.
Born in Washington DC, Jackson was raised in Miami and attended Harvard College, graduating in 1992. She briefly worked at Time magazine as a reporter and researcher before returning to Harvard for law school.
Jackson graduated from Harvard Law in 1996 and has held numerous jobs in the legal field. She has clerked for multiple federal jurists – including Breyer – and worked as an assistant federal public defender between 2005 and 2007.
During that period, she presented Guantanmo Bay prisoner and Afghan terror suspect Khi Ali Gul. While many Republicans – including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – expressed respect for her time as a public defender during her confirmation hearings, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) blasted the judge for representing the terror suspect.
Earlier this week, Cotton accused Jackson of having an interest in “helping terrorists” and went as far to say that she would consider defending Nazis.
Following her time as a public defender, Jackson served as a DC district court judge after being nominated by then-President Barack Obama in 2012.
Many of her sentencings related to child pornography cases came under scrutiny during her marathon confirmation hearing and over the weeks that have followed – with some Republicans calling her decisions overly lenient.
Jackson repeatedly defended her decisions, even as she was driven to exasperation under questioning.
“What I regret is that in a hearing about my qualifications to be a justice on the Supreme Court, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on this small subset of my sentences,” she said when Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) asked if she regretted one of the penalties.
“In every case, I followed what Congress authorized me to do, and looking to the best of my ability [at] all of the various factors that apply that constrain judges that give us discretion, but also tell us how to sentence. And I ruled in every case, based on all of the relevant factors,” Jackson added, shifting the focus to Congress for not enacting updated sentencing guidelines for federal judges.
In early 2021, Biden nominated Jackson to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to replace Attorney General Merrick Garland. As on Thursday, she received three Republican votes supporting her confirmation.
During her time on the DC Circuit, Jackson was among the three judges who ruled against former President Donald Trump in his bid to withhold documents from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol.
Jackson’s confirmation makes her the fourth current Supreme Court justice to be elevated from the DC Circuit, joining Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The high court has also welcomed several other DC Circuit alums in the past, including the late Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as well as former Chief Justice Warren Burger.