What's next for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson? A high-profile confirmation process

Over the coming weeks, every aspect of Jackson's personal and professional life will be scrutinized by both the Senate, its staffers and the general public.

Dylan Wells
  • Jackson has already won Senate confirmation three times, most recently last summer.
  • Her confirmation would be historic. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
  • Sen. Dick Durbin, who will lead confirmation hearings, hopes they'll wrap up by mid-April.

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on Friday, kicking off what's likely to be a high-profile Senate confirmation process.

Jackson must be approved by the Senate, a power given to the chamber in the Constitution.

Over the coming weeks, every aspect of Jackson's personal and professional life will be scrutinized by both the Senate and general public. Senate staffers will read through all of her judicial decisions, speeches, interviews and any other information they can find to prepare lines of questioning for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Though the Biden administration vetted Jackson before nominating her, new information could emerge during the confirmation process.

More:What to know about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden's Supreme Court pick

Jackson has won Senate confirmation three times, most recently last summer when Biden named her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Three Republicans – Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine – voted for her. 

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is President Joe Biden's nominee for associate justice of the Supreme Court.

Retiring Justice Stephen Breyer was nominated by President Bill Clinton, so Jackson's confirmation wouldn't change the partisan makeup of the bench. Because the court will remain 6-3 – six conservative and three liberal justices – the confirmation battle may be less heated than the most recent confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett that shifted the court from a 5-4 divide.

Jackson's confirmation would be historic. She would be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. 

Recap:Biden promises Black woman nominee to SCOTUS as Justice Breyer announces retirement

Race may play a unique roll in the confirmation process. 

"I think the wild card that might keep it from being as political as it otherwise would be is the fact that the nominee [is] a Black woman," said A.E. Dick Howard, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, a former Supreme Court clerk and an expert on the institution. "It makes it more delicate for the Republicans to have a frontal attack on whoever the nominee is, and they might have to hold off."

More:Supreme Court fight shows why Americans have such a hard time talking about equity for Black women

More:Black congresswomen praise Biden for keeping Supreme Court pledge amid conservative backlash

Process could take weeks or months 

Don't expect the process to be swift. 

First, Jackson will meet with senators in preparation for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. At the hearing, she will be questioned by all 22 committee members, who will vote to determine their recommendation on her nomination. Then she will face a vote by the entire Senate to determine whether she joins the court. 

The process could take weeks. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who serves as the chair of the committee, said he hopes to wrap up the hearing process before a scheduled Senate recess in mid-April. 

More:For Black women judges such as Jackson, blazing a trail has meant scrutiny, assumptions

According to the Congressional Research Service, the average number of days between nomination and the final Senate vote is 68.2. 

Barrett had the shortest waiting period and was confirmed 27 days after being nominated by President Donald Trump to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

On the Supreme Court, from left: Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan, Chief Justice John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch,  Stephen Breyer, Amy Coney Barrett and Sonia Sotomayor.

According to Howard, Republicans "will delay things as much as they can by raising a lot of questions and extending the hearings in the hopes that something will crack."

"There's a political game that will be played alongside the judicial judgment," he said. "The longer the process is played out before the actual hearings, the more time you give opposition groups, interest groups and the country at large to march, to do homework, to try to talk to everybody who is the neighbor or ever knew the nominee."

The Senate Judiciary Committee is composed of 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans. Durbin serves as the chair of the committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is ranking member – the top Republican. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee that will consider President Joe Biden's Supreme Court nomination.

The committee conducts initial research and interviews with the nominee before holding a public hearing. During this time, the nominee normally meets with senators and answers a questionnaire prepared by the committee. The FBI will conduct reports on the nominee, and the American Bar Association will rate her qualifications. 

The Judiciary Committee hearing

Jackson will sit before senators who will question her in a live hearing.

Durbin will begin the hearing with a statement in support of the nominee, then Grassley will lay out the biggest flaws Republicans see with the nomination, according to Casey Burgat, legislative affairs program director at George Washington University.

The Democrats and Republicans will go back and forth in terms of seniority, each senator getting five minutes to question her.

"We can expect to see fireworks," Burgat said. "When the committee lights turn on, that's where the most public stage of questioning can happen, where they have time to – with a lot of research behind it – look at the background, and then pose questions to get the nominee's responses under oath, in front of a camera, which can always change how people react."

 "The hearings themselves have really become interrogations," said Howard, who predicted that the administration will have Jackson watch recent Judiciary Committee hearings to prepare.

"Somebody on the Hill is going to read every opinion that the nominee has ever written, take them apart and see if they can find holes in it that they can attack," Howard said.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is nominated for associate justice of the Supreme Court.

Senators likely to focus on controversial topics

The senators will focus their questions on "high salience, high controversy, sexy topics" likely to appear on the docket, such as Roe v. Wade, climate change, immigration and pandemic mask mandates, Burgat said. 

Howard likewise predicted that Roe v. Wade will be a major focus, alongside the separation between church and state, religious issues, affirmative action and gun control. 

"These hearings are about as high profile as a committee hearing can get," Burgat said.

"This is why a seat on judiciary is what is sought after, because you get five minutes of uninterrupted time to promote yourself, to get your brand out there as either a hard-line ideologue or opposer of the other party," he said. "It's your chance to kind of make a name for yourself as a tough questioner of a lifetime appointment."

In the confirmation hearing for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, for example, then-Sen. Kamala Harris, as well as Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., drew national attention over their tough questioning of the nominee. 

After the hearings, which typically last about four days, the committee votes to determine its recommendation for the rest of the chamber. The nominee is reported "favorably" or "unfavorably." Once the vote is reported to the Senate, the full chamber can begin floor debate.

Sens. Corey Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., confer during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Sept. 4, 2018, in Washington.

Full chamber vote

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will set the schedule for a full Senate vote.

Republicans may try to use a legislative maneuver called a filibuster to delay the vote. Before 2017, 60 votes were needed to break a filibuster and bring a vote to the floor. Five years ago – as Democrats filibustered the nomination of Neil Gorsuch – Republicans lowered the threshold for the number of votes required to confirm a Supreme Court justice to 51. 

What is the filibuster? A look at the Senate’s consequential quirk and debate on its future

More:Republicans could delay but not block Biden's Supreme Court pick if all Democrats back nominee

As a result, Republicans have less ability to delay the confirmation vote of Jackson. 

A simple majority of 51 of the 100 senators must vote yes for Jackson to be confirmed. The Senate is evenly split between 50 Democratic caucus members and 50 Republican members, and Vice President Harris would break tie votes, giving Democrats the majority.   

Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer  is retiring.

After the vote

Breyer will retire at the end of the Supreme Court term this summer. Typically, sessions end in late June or early July.

What is the Supreme Court? Everything you need to know about the SCOTUS and its justices

"Once the new nominee is confirmed and becomes a justice, then you have the whole summer, and the next term doesn't start till the first Monday in October," Howard said. "There's ample time for the nominee to take her seat and get into the swing of things of the court."