Senate confirms Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson meets with U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) (not pictured), on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 28, 2022.
Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the 116th justice — and the first Black woman — to serve on the top U.S. court.

The 53-47 final vote tally showed bipartisan support for Jackson, with three Republicans joining all Democrats to elevate the 51-year-old federal judge to a lifetime appointment on the high court.

“This is a great moment for Judge Jackson, but it is a greater moment for America as we rise to a more perfect union,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said before the vote.

Jackson is President Joe Biden’s first Supreme Court nominee. She will replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, who was confirmed to the bench in 1994.

Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black woman ever to hold that title, presided over the vote to confirm Jackson.

Jackson will join a court that has grown substantially more conservative following the appointment of three of former President Donald Trump’s nominees. Her addition will maintain the size of the court’s liberal wing, which is outnumbered 6-3 by the conservative bloc.

Just five women — Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett — have served on the Supreme Court. Only two Black men, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, have ever been appointed to the bench. No Black women have previously sat on the high court.

Jackson is also set to become the first Supreme Court justice to have served as a public defender. Democrats have touted that experience as more evidence that Jackson will bring fresh perspective to the historically homogeneous court.

Republicans, however, have tried to wield Jackson’s public-defender experience against her by accusing her of sympathizing with the views or actions of some of her past clients.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was criticized for remarking Tuesday on the Senate floor that while former Justice Robert Jackson “left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremberg and prosecute the case against the Nazis … this Judge Jackson might have gone there to defend them.”

Jackson fielded that criticism and others during more than 23 hours of questioning over two grueling days of confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.

While her qualifications and temperament were rarely questioned, Republicans tore into Jackson’s judicial record, arguing that her rulings show a willingness to legislate from the bench. They also focused intently on her sentencing record in a handful of child-pornography cases, accusing her of doling out light punishments to those offenders.

Fact-checkers have disputed that characterization, and Democratic committee members pushed back aggressively against their Republicans’ criticisms.

Members of the American Bar Association, which unanimously awarded Jackson its top rating of “Well Qualified,” also defended Jackson’s record during her confirmation hearings.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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