SPOKANE — The Senate on Thursday confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to serve on the high court. Northwest senators voted along party lines despite some bipartisan support for Jackson’s confirmation.
Washington and Idaho’s senators reflected the deep partisan divisions over the nation’s judiciary, despite a relative lack of controversy around Jackson, who will replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. Only three Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted to confirm Jackson to the nation’s highest court.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called Jackson “one of the most exceptional Supreme Court nominees I have ever met.”
“I am so excited that she’s on her way to the Supreme Court,” Murray said. “It is incredibly well deserved, and incredibly good news for our country. The bottom line for me is always: Can I tell my constituents back home in Washington state that if they ever have a case before this judge, this is someone who will listen, someone who will understand, someone who will make a thoughtful, fair decision for them based on the laws of our nation? And the answer with Judge Jackson is a resounding yes.”
While Jackson has in many ways the typical background of a Supreme Court candidate, with degrees from Harvard University and years of experience as a federal judge, Murray pointed to parts of Jackson’s résumé that set her apart from her new colleagues on the high court. Jackson was a public defender and served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which lowered sentencing guidelines for some nonviolent drug crimes during her tenure.
“As a professional, Judge Jackson’s record doesn’t merely check the boxes we’ve come to expect from our Supreme Court nominees,” Murray said. “She also has experience that is less common on the highest court in the land, and for that reason all the more important.”
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Thursday he appreciated the chance to meet with Jackson — a fellow Harvard Law graduate — but had decided to oppose her confirmation.
“After reviewing her record and taking careful consideration of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, I have concluded I cannot vote to confirm her to a lifetime appointment on the United States Supreme Court,” Crapo said. “I have serious reservations about her judicial philosophy and willingness to interpret the law as written.”
While some GOP senators criticized Jackson for her work as a public defender, which included representing Guantánamo Bay detainees, Crapo kept it simple and explained his vote based on Jackson’s record of relatively liberal rulings. Despite Jackson telling senators during her confirmation hearings she believes “the Constitution is fixed in its meaning” — an idea associated with the conservative-aligned concept of constitutional originalism — she is expected to provide a reliably liberal vote on the court, which will retain its 6-3 conservative majority.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., celebrated Jackson’s historic nomination in a post on Twitter on Wednesday, along with a photo of their recent meeting.
“History is being made in the United States of America,” Cantwell wrote. “We will have a new Justice on the highest court of the land that makes the bench look more like America.”
“All women and women of color should be so proud of this moment. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson will be a strong supporter of our privacy rights, and her history as both a public defender and a federal judge makes her uniquely and extraordinarily qualified.”
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, announced in a statement shortly before the vote that he would oppose Jackson’s confirmation.
“After careful deliberation, I cannot provide my consent to Judge Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court,” Risch said. “I take seriously the advice and consent role of the U.S. Senate, and value judges who interpret the Constitution through originalism and do not legislate from the bench.”
“Judge Jackson’s past rulings as a lone-court judge demonstrate a commitment to make new law rather than interpret the Constitution as originally written,” Risch continued. “Additionally, her past pro-abortion and pro-labor union rulings make clear she will not decide cases before the Supreme Court in a conservative manner. As such, I cannot support the lifetime appointment of Judge Jackson to the United States Supreme Court.”
Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, also voted to confirm Jackson. She is expected to take Breyer’s place after he steps down when the Supreme Court’s current session ends this summer.