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Collins says she will back Ketanji Brown Jackson for Supreme Court

The moderate senator from Maine becomes the first Republican to announce her support for Jackson, giving the White House at least a minimally bipartisan vote.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) meets with Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Capitol Hill on March 8. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Wednesday she will vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, becoming the first Republican senator to publicly back President Biden’s nominee and all but guaranteeing Jackson will become the first Black female justice in history.

The announcement ensures the White House has at least minimally bipartisan support for Jackson, who continued her flurry of sit-downs with senators ahead of votes next week that will probably end in her being confirmed as the 116th member of the Supreme Court.

The great majority of the Senate’s Republicans are still set to oppose Jackson, but Collins’s decision ensures Vice President Harris will not have to visit the Senate chamber to break a 50-50 tie, an image the White House was hoping to avoid.

Collins, who has voted in favor of every Supreme Court candidate except one during her Senate career, was always seen as the likeliest Republican to back Jackson. In a statement Wednesday, Collins said she had reviewed the nominee’s record, watched much of her hearing testimony and met with her twice in person, concluding that Jackson possessed “the experience, qualifications and integrity” to serve on the court.

“In my meetings with Judge Jackson, we discussed in depth several issues that were raised in her hearing,” Collins said. “Sometimes I agreed with her; sometimes I did not. And just as I have disagreed with some of her decisions to date, I have no doubt that, if Judge Jackson is confirmed, I will not agree with every vote that she casts as a justice. That alone, however, is not disqualifying.”

Senate Republicans spent parts of Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings questioning her about her views on race. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Collins sharply criticized the Supreme Court confirmation process, which in recent decades has become a highly partisan affair, saying that “the process is broken.”

“In my view, the role the Constitution clearly assigns to the Senate is to examine the experience, qualifications, and integrity of the nominee,” Collins said in her statement. “It is not to assess whether a nominee reflects the ideology of an individual Senator or would rule exactly as an individual Senator would want.” The New York Times first reported Collins’s decision.

Biden called Collins on Wednesday to personally thank her for her support of Jackson, a person familiar with the conversation said. The president had previously telephoned Collins at least three times since Justice Stephen G. Breyer announced his retirement in late January, underscoring the GOP senator’s unusual role in the confirmation fight.

Among the issues Collins brought up in her meeting with Jackson this week was a habeas corpus petition that Jackson, then an attorney, filed on behalf of a Guantánamo Bay detainee. In it, Jackson asserted that actions taken by former president George W. Bush and his defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, constituted war crimes — which some Republicans framed as Jackson calling the two men “war criminals.”

In an interview, Collins said Jackson explained that Bush and Rumsfeld were not being sued in their personal capacities, and that she was using a standard template for such petitions. The senator found Jackson’s response satisfactory, she said.

The pool of Republican senators seen as potential votes for Jackson is relatively small. Along with Collins, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) supported her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last year.

This time around, Murkowski has not tipped her hand, while it is widely assumed Graham will ultimately oppose Jackson after his pugnacious performance in her confirmation hearing last week.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has said he is keeping an open mind on Jackson despite his opposition to her nomination to the appeal court last year. He met with Jackson on Tuesday and said he was impressed but would probably not announce his position until he has to cast his vote next week.

“She’s intelligent, capable and of course, as you know, a charming person,” Romney said. “I enjoyed our discussion a great deal.”

Democrats have also eyed a trio of retiring Senate Republicans — Roy Blunt (Mo.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Richard Burr (N.C.) — as long-shot votes for Jackson, since they would not face political retribution for backing a pick from a Democratic president. Burr also met with Jackson this week and on Wednesday said he plans “to do some work on it tonight.”

Portman has expressed concerns about Jackson’s judicial philosophy, suggesting he will not support her. The top ranks of GOP leadership — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) have already announced their opposition, and most Republicans are expected to line up behind them.

“I think everybody is making individual decisions based on whatever they believe their appropriate criteria are,” former senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who is shepherding Jackson’s nomination process through Capitol Hill, said in an interview Wednesday. But Collins’s public support "certainly, I think, helps politically to say that this should not be about politics,” he added.

Manchin says he supports Jackson for Supreme Court

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Jackson’s nomination on Monday, triggering a timeline that would put the judge on track to be confirmed to the Supreme Court as early as the following Thursday or Friday, as long as enough Democratic senators are healthy and present.

The committee appears to be headed toward a deadlocked 11-11 vote, which would force Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to use a procedural maneuver that effectively discharges her nomination onto the Senate floor.

That vote could serve as a signal on where senators who have not yet announced their position will land on the nomination. But Democrats have argued that a particularly qualified candidate such as Jackson should be reported favorably out of committee. Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) said a tie vote would be “a truly unfortunate signal of the continued descent into dysfunction of our confirmation process.”

Jones noted the historic resonance of the first Black woman potentially ascending to the country’s most powerful court after two centuries.

“I think folks understand the significance and the inspiration that she brings to so many people,” Jones said. “But there is the political dynamic.”

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

Ketanji Brown Jackson

The latest: Ketanji Brown Jackson will be sworn in as the Supreme Court’s first Black female justice at noon Eastern time on June 30, just minutes after her mentor Justice Stephen G. Breyer makes his retirement official. It is the first time the Supreme Court will have four female justices among its nine members.

The votes: The Senate voted 53-to-47 to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, with three Republican senators joining every Democratic and independent senator. Here’s how each senator voted on Jackson’s nomination.

The nominee: The president named Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as his first Supreme Court nominee. She is set be the first Black woman justice in the court’s history.

What it means: The Democrats will succeed in their efforts to replace the oldest of three liberal justices on and further diversify the Supreme Court ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.