Gary Blakeley | Dreamstime.com
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says lawmakers may vote as soon as Thursday on confirming Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court after three GOP lawmakers broke ranks with their party earlier this week to end a deadlock in the Judiciary Committee.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah joined all 50 Democrats on Monday in voting to discharge Jackson’s nomination from the evenly divided panel, which conducted four grueling days of hearings in late March.
Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court in American history, previously served on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and, currently, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. She won bipartisan support in the Senate for both positions before drawing almost-unanimous GOP opposition now.
“While we still have a long way to go, America tomorrow will take a giant step to becoming a more perfect nation,” Schumer told senators late Wednesday, announcing a deal to vote on ending debate on Jackson’s nomination at 11 a.m. Thursday. The procedural move may allow a confirmation vote just hours later.
If Jackson is approved, she would succeed Justice Stephen Breyer, the senior member of the court’s liberal wing and a jurist for whom she clerked.
Breyer announced his retirement in January amid concern by Democrats that if he didn’t do so, Republicans would block any nominees by President Biden if they regained control of the chamber in November's mid-term elections.
Graham eyes future with GOP 'in charge'
A similar refusal to consider the nomination by former President Barack Obama in 2016 of then-Judge Merrick Garland gave his successor, Donald Trump, the opportunity to appoint three justices to the high court. Trump’s selections established a 6-3 conservative majority that appears poised to significantly curtail, or even overturn, the abortion rights provided under 1973’s Roe v. Wade.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee, reinforced Democrats’ concerns on Monday in a brief but bitter statement explaining his opposition to Jackson.
“The process you started to go to a simple majority vote is going to rear its head here pretty soon where we’re in charge,” he said, referring to the party’s decision during the Obama era to stop requiring a 60-vote supermajority in lower court nominations, an alteration the GOP later extended to the Supreme Court. “Then we’ll talk about judges differently.”
Graham, who supported blocking consideration of Garland’s nomination in February 2016 - arguing that it was too close to a presidential election nine months later - nonetheless voted to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whom Trump nominated a little more than a month before losing the 2020 election.
'History Books Will Be Taking Notes'
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who until the 2020 election was majority leader, masterminded both votes.
This week, he cited a litany of grievances over Democratic treatment of Republican nominees including Robert Bork in 1987 and Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991.
“This history is not the reason why I oppose Judge Jackson,” he said. “This is not about finger-pointing or partisan spite. I have voted for a number of President Biden’s nominees when I can support them.”
Instead, McConnell said, his point is that Democrats “intentionally brought the Senate to a more assertive place.”
The party holding the majority today “intentionally began a vigorous debate about what sort of jurisprudence actually honors the rule of law,” the minority leader argued. “This is the debate Democrats wanted. Now it is the debate Democrats have.”
Democrats, for their part, have praised Jackson as eminently qualified for the Supreme Court and complimented her composure in the face of criticism from GOP members of the Judiciary Committee.
“History books will be taking notes” on the outcome of her nomination, Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and committee member, said during the panel’s Monday meeting. “People will read this history for generations to come. The only question we have is whether we will rise to meet this moment in history. I intend to.”