The Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked, 11-11, Monday on whether to send Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination to the Senate floor.
But President Joe Biden’s nominee is still on track to be confirmed this week as the first Black woman on the high court – especially with two key Republican lawmakers announcing they will support Jackson's confirmation.
What You Need To Know
- The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday debated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination before casting a deadlock vote, forcing a full vote on the Senate floor to "discharge" her nomination out of committee
- But President Joe Biden’s nominee is still on track to be confirmed this week as the first Black woman on the high court, with two key Republican lawmakers announcing Monday that they will support Jackson's confirmation, boosting her bipartisan support
- Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah on Monday joined Sen. Susan Collins of Maine in announcing they would support Jackson's nomination, all but assuring her confirmation
- The discharge vote succeeded, 53-47, setting Jackson up to be confirmed to the Supreme Court later this week
The committee’s tie vote was expected, as there is an even party split on the panel and all of the Republicans are opposing Jackson’s nomination to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. But it was still a blow to Democrats who had hoped for robust bipartisan support — and it was the first time the committee has deadlocked on a Supreme Court nomination in three decades.
In order to move forward, Democrats planned a new vote to “discharge” Jackson’s nomination from committee Monday evening and then take a series of procedural steps in the coming days to wind it through the 50-50 Senate.
As the Senate held the discharge vote, two key Republican lawmakers – Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney – announced they would support her nomination, assuring her confirmation to the highest court in the land.
Murkowski, the second Republican to say they will support Jackson, criticized the "corrosive politicization" of the confirmation process.
“After multiple in-depth conversations with Judge Jackson and deliberative review of her record and recent hearings, I will support her historic nomination to be an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court," the Alaska Republican wrote.
She said her decision "also rests on my rejection of the corrosive politicization of the review process for Supreme Court nominees, which, on both sides of the aisle, is growing worse and more detached from reality by the year.”
"While I have not and will not agree with all of Judge Jackson’s decisions and opinions, her approach to cases is carefully considered and is generally well-reasoned," she added, while also praising her support from law enforcement agencies: "The support she has received from law enforcement agencies around the country is significant and demonstrates the judge is one who brings balance to her decisions."
Romney, who announced his support minutes later, expressed a similar sentiment, writing: "While I do not expect to agree with every decision she may make on the Supreme Court, I believe that she more than meets the standard of excellence and integrity."
The discharge vote ultimately succeeded, 53-47, putting Jackson's nomination up for a glide path to confirmation later this week.
The panel’s chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., opened the session Monday by saying he believes Jackson has “impeccable qualifications.”
He cited Jackson’s background as a U.S. district and appeals court judge; as a clerk to federal judges, including Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, whom she would replace if confirmed; as a member of the Sentencing Commission; and as a federal public defender.
“These critical experiences bring a missing perspective to the court,” Durbin said.
Jackson sat through two days of sometimes bruising questioning during her Judiciary Committee hearings last month. Republicans grilled her on what they characterized as her light sentencing in child pornography cases, her representation of Sept. 11 terror suspects as a public defender, her ruling on an immigration case and critical race theory.
Durbin on Monday criticized Republican members who he said allowed the confirmation process to become a “circus.”
“They repeatedly interrupted and badgered Judge Jackson and accused her of vile things in front of her parents, her husband and her children,” he said. “ (Some senators) repeated discredited claims about Judge Jackson's record, they impugned her motives and questioned her candor. One all but called her a liar.”
But Durbin commended her for staying “calm and collected” during questioning.
“She showed dignity, grace and poise,” he said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he hoped Republicans would cross party lines to unanimously support the first Black female nominee to the Supreme Court.
“Let’s put partisanship and pettiness aside,” he said. “ … The history books will be taking notes. People will read this history for generations to come. The only question we have is whether we rise to meet this moment in history.”
However, it was immediately clear Leahy would not get his wish.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s highest-ranking Republican, said he would vote against Jackson because he and she “have fundamental different views on the role of judges and the role that they should play in our system of government.”
He also questioned why the White House had not provided nonpublic documents Republicans requested on some of Jackson’s past cases.
“The refusal tells us that those documents probably wouldn't help the nominee because we've seen the willingness to leak any helpful information,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he wasn’t supporting Jackson because he believes her nomination “was really embraced by the most radical people in the Democratic movement, to the exclusion of everybody else.”
“After four days of hearings, I now know why the left likes her so much,” he said.
Graham said if Republicans had been in charge of the Judiciary Committee they would not have even held hearings for Jackson and would have instead demanded a more moderate candidate.
The South Carolina Republican had publicly lobbied for U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs, a fellow South Carolinian who is also Black, to be nominated.
Graham voted to confirm Jackson for the U.S. Appeals Court in the District of Columbia. He defended his opposition this time by saying, “Supreme Court, you're making policy not just bound by it.”
Graham criticized a number of Jackson’s rulings, including child pornography cases. Jackson argued during her confirmation hearings that the sentencing guidelines are outdated because they don’t accurately differentiate the most serious and less serious offenders in the internet age.
“She said now it’s so easy in the confines of your office or your home to hit a button and download hundreds if not thousands of images, and she felt like that would be unfair to the defendant,” Graham said. “I don't. Every time you hit a button downloading an image of a child being sexually abused, I want you to go to jail longer.”
Democrats have countered by arguing Jackson's sentencing on child pornography cases are in line with other what other judges have handed down, including some nominated by former President Donald Trump.
“They could all have been dragged through the mud, too,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said after citing examples of below-guideline sentences issued by Trump-nominated judges. “They could have been dragged through the mud and called names with these kinds of implications.”
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said none of the more than 250 reviews conducted by American Bar Association during Jackson’s career found her to be far out of the mainstream. He added the National Fraternal Order of Police and International Association of Chiefs of Police have publicly supported her nomination.
“Judge Jackson is not soft on crime,” Coons said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also sought to paint Jackson as someone working to advance a radical left agenda. He argued that, if confirmed, Jackson would undoubtedly vote to strike down restrictions on abortion access, overturn efforts to enforce the nation’s borders, toss out school-choice programs and overturn strict sentences on violent criminals, including the death penalty.
At least one lawmaker on Monday expressed concern about some of the rhetoric that came up during the confirmation hearings.
"I really do worry about where we are spiraling towards," Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said. "I heard things that were just ridiculous and painful and hurtful."
Proceedings were delayed Monday when Sen. Padilla's plane, who was on a flight from California to Washington, was forced to be rerouted "due to a passenger medical emergency," according to a spokesperson.
Padilla is a crucial Democratic vote in order to get Jackson's nomination out of committee.
“We have a problem and it could have happened to anyone of us," Sen. Durbin said Monday afternoon before sending the committee to recess.
"It is my intention to recess subject to the call of the chair," Durbin said. "I believe Sen. Padilla will back in time this afternoon for us to consider this nomination."
The Senate has, in the past, allowed Supreme Court nominees to proceed to a full floor vote even if they were not recommended by the Judiciary Committee. In 1987, the Judiciary Committee – chaired by then-Sen. Joe Biden – voted to recommend Robert Bork “unfavorably” to the Senate, which ultimately rejected Bork’s nomination on a 58-42 vote.
In 1991, Biden’s judiciary committee deadlocked on Clarence Thomas’ nomination, although it did opt to send his nomination to the full Senate for a vote. The Senate ultimately voted 52-48 in favor of confirming him as a Supreme Court justice.
Should Jackson’s nomination advance out of committee, the full Senate would then vote on whether to send her to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Stephen Breyer. Vice President Kamala Harris would act as a tie-breaking vote should the Senate, which is currently split evenly along party lines, deadlock on the decision. It would be the first time in history a vice president broke a tie in a Supreme Court confirmation.
After Breyer announced his retirement in late January, Biden, now president, said he hoped to have a nominee confirmed within 40 days, which would be April 9. At the outset of Jackson’s confirmation hearings, Schumer said Congress was “on track” to conclude the process before Easter recess begins April 8.
Biden also said he hoped to gain some Republican support for his nominee, but so far only one GOP senator, Maine’s Susan Collins, has confirmed she will vote in Jackson’s favor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.