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Ketanji Brown Jackson on track for confirmation by end of next week

Judiciary panel to vote next Monday on advancing 1st Black woman to Supreme Court

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson shakes hands with Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) as she leaves her confirmation hearing last week. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
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The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday formally scheduled a vote on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court for April 4, triggering a timeline that would put the judge on track to be confirmed as the court’s 116th justice — and its first Black woman — by the end of next week.

As the committee met to consider Jackson’s nomination, Republican senators requested a one-week delay on a vote, which has become a standard parliamentary tactic. That will launch a series of procedural votes on the Senate floor next week culminating in a confirmation vote on Thursday or Friday, as long as enough Democratic senators are healthy and present.

With all 50 Democrats and independents expected to support Jackson, virtually assuring her confirmation, most of the remaining suspense surrounds how many Republican votes she will pick up, if any.

“I’m still hopeful. I still think there’s a chance,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said of the prospect of bipartisan support.

The White House and Democratic senators are eyeing just a handful of Senate Republicans as potential votes in favor of Jackson. The most likely candidates are Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who voted to confirm Jackson to the federal appeals court last year, and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who opposed her on that occasion but has said for weeks he is keeping an open mind when it comes to her elevation to the Supreme Court.

Romney is meeting with Jackson on Tuesday, and any public reaction on his part will be closely scrutinized.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a retiring senator whom Democrats consider a long-shot prospect to support Jackson, said that he will meet with her on Tuesday and that questions about expanding the Supreme Court are foremost in his mind. The nominee was pressed at her confirmation hearing on whether she supports proposals to expand the court — an idea its detractors call “court-packing” — but she declined to weigh in, telling senators that it was a matter for Congress to decide.

That exasperated some senators, including Burr. “She didn’t answer it at all,” he said, adding that when he meets with Jackson, “I’m going to give her a chance” to answer.

Democrats say the issue is irrelevant to Jackson’s qualifications for the Supreme Court. But some Republicans have focused on it in part because some of the liberal activists who support Jackson also support court expansion.

Monday’s committee vote is expected to yield an 11-to-11 vote, with the panel splitting along party lines. That would send the nomination to the evenly split Senate, with Vice President Harris casting the tiebreaking vote if necessary.

Jackson on Monday continued her one-on-one sessions with senators at the Capitol, meeting with Democratic Sens. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) and Maggie Hassan (N.H.).

Durbin, at the committee meeting, praised Jackson’s poise at her confirmation hearing, and he applauded the “majority of members on both sides” for being fair and respectful. Durbin had harsher words for some Republicans who spent their questioning time suggesting Jackson was “soft on crime” or trying to paint her as unusually lenient in her sentencing of child pornography offenders.

“Now this may play well to the QAnon crowd and the fringe conspiracy theorists who helped drive the insurrection on January 6th, 2021, but the American public sees it for what it is,” Durbin said, referring to the widely debunked conspiracy theory whose adherents believe, in part, that some politicians and celebrities belong to an international cabal of pedophiles.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the committee, maintained that examining Jackson’s sentencing decisions in the child exploitation cases was fair game — “We’re looking at a record. That’s what we’re supposed to do” — and continued to criticize Jackson for not revealing a specific judicial philosophy.

Asked Monday about the Republican attacks on Jackson, President Biden praised his nominee as someone who “thoroughly” merited a seat on the court.

“Look, this is one of the most qualified nominees ever nominated for the Supreme Court in every respect — in terms of her disposition, her intellectual capacity, her experience and background,” Biden said in remarks from the State Dining Room. He added that he “didn’t get a chance to see any of it,” referring to her confirmation hearing, although White House officials said last week that Biden had viewed portions of it and praised her performance.

One White House aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, said Biden read coverage and viewed clips of the hearing, but “not the hearing in full.”

Even without any Republican votes, Jackson’s confirmation remains on track for early April, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week — particularly after Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), a centrist whose vote is critical in the 50-50 Senate, announced he intended to vote to confirm Jackson.

Three GOP senators — Collins, Murkowski and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) — voted last year in favor of Jackson’s nomination to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. None of the three has announced their final decision this time around, although Graham — who questioned Jackson aggressively at last week’s hearing — is widely expected to vote against her for the Supreme Court.

Collins, who has already met personally with the nominee, told reporters on Monday that she is working to set up a call with Jackson for later this week.

Senate Republican leaders are not officially urging their members to vote against Jackson, instead deferring to each senator to make up his or her mind, said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican. Still, the GOP leaders aren’t anticipating too many defections.

“You saw what she got on the appellate court vote, and I would suspect it’d be in that ballpark,” Thune said, referring to the three Republican votes Jackson earned last year.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced last week that he would oppose Jackson’s confirmation, saying that Biden would have only nominated “a judicial activist.” Thune also said Monday that he would vote against Jackson’s confirmation.

Other Republican senators, particularly some of those who questioned Jackson in her hearings last week, have launched similar lines of attack. Speaking to NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) seemed to suggest that he would oppose Jackson, saying he remained “concerned” about some of her positions.

The dynamic reflects a vastly changed political landscape for Supreme Court confirmations over the past few decades. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed 96 to 3 in 1993, but now such votes fall largely along party lines, and winning even a handful of supporters from the opposition party is considered a victory for the president.

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