Article Update: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed in a bipartisan 53-47 vote in the US Senate today, April 7, 2022, and will become the first black woman to take a seat on the US Supreme Court in its 233 year history when she replaces retiring Justice Stephen Breyer in the summer. The article below was published on March 29, 2022.
After three bruising Senate confirmation hearings and a fourth day of testimony, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson looks to have secured her route to becoming the first black woman to take a seat on America’s highest court.
Whilst the end result – her confirmation to the US Supreme Court – is in little doubt, what we can glean from the saga of her confirmation hearings can tell us a lot about what to expect in the coming year, and the state of the US political landscape at large.
Despite some hostile questioning that is hardly out of the norm for a Supreme Court nomination, Jackson’s road to the court was ironically made easier by those opposing her – when in 2017 Senate Republicans lowered the traditional 60 vote threshold to a simple majority so they could usher in former-President Trump’s first nomination to the court, Neil Gorsuch.
The Senate Panel vote to move forward with Jackson’s nomination is due by April 4, and with the assumption that she has the backing of all 50 Senate Democrats, we could see a scenario where the first black female Vice-President, Kamala Harris, will confirm the first black woman to the Supreme Court by providing a tiebreaker in a 50-50 split in the coming weeks. Thus, whilst Republican support is not necessarily required, failing to achieve even a glint of bipartisanship over Jackson’s historic nomination would be more than illustrative of the fractured climate in Washington today.
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A mostly partisan outcome is one that should nevertheless probably be expected, especially when looking at the ‘distinctive’ tack taken by some Republicans in the confirmation hearings, perceived by some to be a sounding board for aggressive GOP messaging in this November’s midterm elections.
Several Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee attempted to portray Jackson as soft on crime, at a time when crime rates are surging in the United States. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley characterised Jackson as a judge who has a past of leniency in her sentencing, at one point going as far as to say “I am questioning your discretion, your judgement.”
Another likely pillar of the GOP’s 2022 platform to find its place in the hearings was Critical Race Theory, an issue conservatives clearly feel they have an advantage in and will expectedly hammer home in the coming year. Texas Senator Ted Cruz attempted to link Jackson’s role on the board of trustees at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C. to the controversial legal theory, questioning whether it should be taught to children and bringing books from the school’s curriculum such as one titled ‘antiracist baby’.
In response, Jackson said that the board does not control the school’s curriculum, adding that she didn’t feel “any child should be made to feel as though they are racist” and that “it’s never something I’ve studied or relied on, and it wouldn’t be something I would rely on if I was on the Supreme Court.”
Nevertheless, at one stage during the hearings, the Republican National Committee tweeted a picture of Judge Jackson with her initials, KBJ, crossed out and replaced with ‘CRT’ – an action that drew the ire of many.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court pick, audibly sighed when Senator Ted Cruz of Texas asked her about “Antiracist Baby” by Ibram X. Kendi, a children’s book he said is taught at the school where she sits on the board of trustees. https://t.co/VMT7EWJFXe pic.twitter.com/StKt16PfyN
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 23, 2022
Notwithstanding the antipathy that often comes with a Supreme Court nomination, there was some positivity to be found in the hearings. One of the more emotional moments came when New Jersey Senator Cory Booker addressed Judge Jackson, telling her that “the greatest country in the world, the United States of America, will be better because of you.”
There are also a few Republicans that could yet lend their support; these potential swing votes, as identified by Politico, include two of the three members of the GOP that approved Jackson’s nomination to the DC Court of Appeals last year – Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, and Maine’s Susan Collins. Others to watch include former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who has said he will wait until he personally meets with Jackson to decide his vote, and retiring North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, one of the rare GOP members that voted to convict former-President Trump in his 2021 impeachment.
Following former-President Trump’s installation of three justices in his four years in office, the Supreme Court is dominated by a 6-3 conservative supermajority. With issues including the potential overturning of Roe v Wade and the rolling back of abortion rights, affirmative action, gun control, and religious freedoms, all taken by America’s highest court, the conservative control in the chamber indicates many issues, legally, may soon take a turn to the right.
This is not to say that this recent saga is not important. However, whilst there is inherent significance to a Supreme Court confirmation, and Jackson’s nomination as a black woman is certainly groundbreaking, it is important to emphasise that, in taking her seat, Jackson will not change the court’s power dynamics.
Nevertheless, a recent Gallup poll had Judge Jackson receiving the all-time joint highest levels of support for a nominee among the American people, at 58%. President Biden will be hoping that the optics of her historic appointment will afford his presidency a much anticipated boost – with a decidedly negative NBC News poll recently finding just 40% of Americans approve of his job performance, whilst 7 in 10 have low confidence in his handling of the war in Ukraine.
Biden recently warned members of the Democratic National Committee that, should Republicans recapture control of Washington in November’s midterms (what currently looks to be the more likely outcome), he and his fellow Democrats would be in for “a sad two years.” Biden will need plenty more moments like Jackson’s rise to the Supreme Court, and a sharp turnaround in fortunes, if he is to avoid that fate at the end of the year.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Featured Photo Credit: Wikicago, Wikimedia Commons