The Senate confirms Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court

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Updated April 7, 2022 at 2:18 PM ET

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NPR) — The Senate has voted 53 to 47 to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the 116th Supreme Court justice. When sworn in this summer, Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s high court.

“This is one of the great moments of American history,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the vote. “Today we are taking a giant, bold and important step on the well-trodden path to fulfilling our country’s founding promise. This is a great moment for Judge Jackson but it is an even greater moment for America as we rise to a more perfect union.”

President Biden called the vote a “historic moment” for the nation.

“We’ve taken another step toward making our highest court reflect the diversity of America,” Biden posted on Twitter with an image of him taking a selfie with Jackson.

All 50 Senate Democrats, including the two independents who caucus with them, voted for Jackson’s confirmation. They were joined by three Republicans: Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Vice President Kamala Harris took the gavel in her role as head of the Senate to preside over the vote. Leaving the Senate after the vote, Harris said she was “overjoyed.”

“I am feeling a deep sense of pride in who we are as a nation, that we just did what we did as it relates to the highest court of our land,” she told reporters.

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee reached an 11-11 tie along party lines on the question of whether to advance Jackson’s nomination to a vote before the full Senate. Democrats, expecting the deadlock, immediately moved ahead with a procedural step to discharge the nomination to a vote before the full Senate.

During her hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee, Republicans attacked Jackson as a partisan and leaned heavily on culture war fights rather than inquiries concerning the nominee’s qualifications.

Multiple Republicans, including Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Josh Hawley of Missouri, accused the judge of being lenient toward child sexual abusers. Fact-checkers say that the claims are misleading and that Jackson’s sentencing decisions were in line with her peers on the federal bench.

President Joe Biden and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson watch the Senate vote on Judge Brown's nomination to the Supreme Court in the Roosevelt Room of the White House
President Joe Biden and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson watch the Senate vote on Judge Brown’s nomination to the Supreme Court in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. [Mandel Ngan | AFP via Getty Images]

Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court

Jackson’s confirmation fulfills a major campaign promise from President Biden: to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.

Jackson, 51, served eight years as a federal trial court judge and last June was confirmed for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Prior to becoming a judge, Jackson worked as a public defender. Once confirmed, Jackson will be first Supreme Court justice since Thurgood Marshall to have represented indigent criminal defendants.

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1996, she went on to clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer — who she will replace on the high court when Breyer formally retires this summer.

Breyer, 83, was appointed to the court by then-President Bill Clinton in 1994 to replace retiring justice Harry Blackmun.

In contrast to the contemporary view of the court as another venue of partisan political and cultural warfare, Justice Breyer became known for his decades-long effort to build consensus among the justices despite philosophical and ideological differences about the Constitution.

Last year, Breyer published a book which argued that the American public should continue to trust in the court as an apolitical institution that exists above the political fray of the other branches.

“I’m afraid if the general public begins to think that the Supreme Court justices are junior-league politicians,” Breyer told NPR’s Nina Totenberg. “A lot of unfortunate things will happen because they think, why don’t we want senior-varsity politicians? Why do we want junior-varsity politicians? A lot of unfortunate thoughts for the institution can go through people’s minds.”

During Jackson’s time on the court, Breyer’s conception of the Supreme Court will be tested as the court’s conservative majority rules on cases concerning some of the nation’s most controversial social and political issues, ranging from abortion access to the role of race in college admissions.

NPR’s Barbara Sprunt and Susan Davis contributed reporting.

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