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Senate Votes to Confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court in Bipartisan Vote

Roar writer Matteo Cardarelli on the recent confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.

And so at long last, America had her Justice. On April 7, the Senate voted 53-47 to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. America’s 116th Supreme Court Justice will officially be the first black woman to sit on the bench, as well as the first former public defender. After the Judicial Committee’s split partisan vote, which Democrats circumvented using a procedural rule, the road to the bench seemed finally clear of obstacles. Indeed, with no less than three Republican backers– the usual suspects, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska– the Senate vote proved far less caustic than anticipated. 

News of Jackson’s confirmation was cause for celebration in liberal circles. In a tweet, President Biden called the Senate vote an “historic moment” and expressed confidence that Jackson will prove “an incredible Justice“. Senator Dick Durbin (Democrat, Illinois), the chair of the Judiciary Committee, was equally keen to note the significance of the appointment. “This is a historic moment for the committee and for America”, adding that Jackson is “is a uniquely American family story”. Kamala Harris struck an emotional note, revealing a conversation she had with her goddaughter after Jackson’s confirmation: “her braids are just a little longer than yours, but when I wrote to her I told her what I knew this would mean for her life and all that she has in terms of potential”. 

Speaking for the first time as a confirmed Supreme Court Justice at a White House event, Judge Jackson evoked the deep meaning behind her confirmation. She noted that, “It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, but we’ve made it! We’ve made it — all of us”. Civil rights groups struck an optimistic tone, after they had come out in strength to support Jackson’s nomination. NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) General Counsel, Janette McCarthy Wallace, who attended the Senate vote, released a statement saying, “I celebrate her confirmation and this stride toward achieving true equity, and look forward to seeing her take the bench”. Particularly pertinent, America’s first black president, Barack Obama, added, “This is a great day for America, and a proud moment in our history”.

Though three Republicans may have backed Jackson, make no mistake, the critical mass of the GOP (Republican Party) refused to even consider entertaining the prospect of her nomination. The clearest response to Jackson’s confirmation was the Olympic-level speed in which the Senate was vacated after the vote ended. The hearings had been vitriolic, with Senators Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton all attempting to land heavy – if misdirected – blows. In recent years, the GOP has become accustomed to victory in judicial politics. Jackson’s confirmation was a blow to this invincibility. With a Democratic Senate, it was inevitable, yet damaging nonetheless. 

Despite the magnitude of the occasion, President Biden would do well to remember the reality of the situation and remain grounded. Even with Jackson’s successful nomination, the Court remains stacked at 6-3 in favour of its conservative wing. There is more work ahead for Democrats on the lower courts if they are to reverse years of Republican judicial dominance before the midterms, which portend much uncertainty for liberal prospects. 

Republicans have not been shy about voicing the consequences of a Senate flip, should that come to pass in November. On Tuesday, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recalled his decision to block Merrick Garland’s appointment to the Supreme Court as “the single most important” choice he had made throughout his eight-year tenure leading Senate Republicans. Ominously, he warned that Republicans would do things “very differently” if they secured the majority in the upcoming midterms.

So for Democrats it’s a classic case of hope for the best but prepare for the worst. In this vein, Biden has already announced plans to push forward with five new judicial nominees, two to federal courts and three to district courts. Jackson is only a component, albeit a key one, of a wider Democratic agenda to replace and re-staff an aging judicial corps, while simultaneously upholding Biden’s core campaign promise to inject diversity into the judicial branch. Indeed, two of Biden’s nominees are trailblazers in the same vein as Jackson. Judge John Lee, who currently serves on the District Court in Illinois, would be the first Asian American to sit on the 7th Circuit of Appeals, while Nancy Maldonado would be the first Hispanic woman to serve as a federal judge in Illinois. 

While it seems that Biden is determined to pursue his judicial agenda, he will need solid party consensus if he is to have any success. The Senate is perched at 50-50, with Senators Manchin (Democrat, West Virginia) and Sinema (Democrat, Arizona) far from reliable votes. Despite three Republicans having backed Jackson, there is no guarantee that this will be the case in future. 

More importantly, as a constant sobering reminder of the organ failure that threatens the entire American system, a CNN poll revealed that only 36% of Americans believe that hearings are effective in selecting higher quality justices for the Supreme Court. While Jackson may have been confirmed, the arduous and, at times, comical questions that she was forced to endure point to the glitzy superficiality of the process. Political grandstanding and efforts to claim the higher ground have yielded cringeworthy moments. In one of the more bizarre examples, this week Senator Cotton essentially labelled Judge Jackson a Nazi sympathiser. Since Jackson was a relatively unproblematic candidate (no skeletons in the closet, that sort of thing), one can only wonder what politicians of Cotton’s ilk will claim in future hearings. 

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