Politics

Senate confirms Ketanji Brown Jackson to Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to serve as a justice

Key Points
  • The Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to serve on the top U.S. court.
  • The 53-47 final vote tally showed bipartisan support for Jackson, with three Republicans joining all Democrats to elevate the 51-year-old federal judge to a lifetime appointment.
  • Jackson is President Joe Biden's first Supreme Court nominee. She will replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, who was confirmed to the bench in 1994.
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Senate votes to make Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson the first Black woman ever to serve on Supreme Court

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the 116th justice — and the first Black woman — to serve on the top U.S. court.

The 53-47 final vote tally showed bipartisan support for Jackson, with three Republicans joining all Democrats to elevate the 51-year-old federal judge to a lifetime appointment on the high court.

"This is a great moment for Judge Jackson, but it is a greater moment for America as we rise to a more perfect union," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said before the vote.

Jackson is President Joe Biden's first Supreme Court nominee. She will replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, who was confirmed to the bench in 1994.

US President Joe Biden and judge Ketanji Brown Jackson watch the Senate vote on her nomination to an an associate justice on the US Supreme Court, from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on April 7, 2022.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black woman ever to hold that title, presided over the vote to confirm Jackson. Harris appeared to momentarily choke up with emotion as she read out the vote result, which drew a swell of applause and cheering from the Senate floor.

Jackson will join a court that has grown substantially more conservative following the appointment of three of former President Donald Trump's nominees. Her addition will maintain the size of the court's liberal wing, which is outnumbered 6-3 by the conservative bloc.

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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed to Supreme Court

Just five women — Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett — have served on the Supreme Court. Only two Black men, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, have ever been appointed to the bench. No Black women have previously sat on the high court.

"Judge Jackson's confirmation was a historic moment for our nation," Biden said in a tweet after the vote. "We've taken another step toward making our highest court reflect the diversity of America. She will be an incredible Justice, and I was honored to share this moment with her."

Jackson is also set to become the first Supreme Court justice to have served as a public defender. Democrats have touted that experience as more evidence that Jackson will bring fresh perspective to the historically homogeneous court.

Public defenders are assigned to defend people in criminal cases who may otherwise be unable to hire their own counsel, a constitutional right. Republicans, however, have tried to wield Jackson's public-defender experience against her by accusing her of sympathizing with the views or actions of some of her past clients, including detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., was criticized for remarking Tuesday on the Senate floor that while former Justice Robert Jackson "left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremberg and prosecute the case against the Nazis ... this Judge Jackson might have gone there to defend them."

Jackson fielded that criticism and others during more than 23 hours of questioning over two grueling days of confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.

Members of the House Congressional Black Caucus speak after the successful confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman ever to serve on the Supreme Court, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, April 7, 2022.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

While her qualifications and temperament were rarely questioned, Republicans tore into Jackson's judicial record, arguing that her rulings show a willingness to legislate from the bench. They also focused intently on her sentencing record in a handful of child-pornography cases, accusing her of doling out light punishments to those offenders.

Fact-checkers have disputed that characterization, and Democratic committee members pushed back aggressively against the Republicans' criticisms.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to the press shortly after the Senate confirms Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 7, 2022.
Sarah Silbiger | Reuters

Members of the American Bar Association, which unanimously awarded Jackson its top rating of "Well Qualified," also defended Jackson's record during her confirmation hearings.

Despite her endorsements, Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have framed Jackson as a fellow travelers of far-left politics.

But after her confirmation hearings, Jackson picked up the support of centrist Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.

"While I do not expect to agree with every decision she may make on the Court, I believe that she more than meets the standard of excellence and integrity," Romney said when he announced his support Monday.