Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmation moves forward after tie vote in Judiciary Committee

Dylan Wells

WASHINGTON – Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's historic nomination to be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court moved one step closer Monday.

The Senate passed a procedural vote Monday night to bring up her name for confirmation before the upper chamber, after the Judiciary Committee deadlocked earlier in the day. The move sets up a final confirmation vote for Jackson on the Senate floor later this week. 

Previously, the 22-member Senate Judiciary Committee, which is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, voted along party lines for an 11-11 tie, rather than offering a "favorable" or "unfavorable" recommendation. 

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., can set the schedule for a full chamber vote, where Jackson is likely to be confirmed before Congress leaves for Easter recess at the end of the week. 

Last week, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced she would back Jackson, ensuring bipartisan support for the nomination. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who frequently breaks from his party, said he would vote for the nominee

Early Monday evening, as the Senate voted on the motion to discharge the nomination from the committee following the tie vote, two more Republican senators announced they would support Jackson's nomination.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said they would vote yes.

"After multiple in-depth conversations with Judge Jackson and deliberative review of her record and recent hearings, I will support her historic nomination," Murkowski said in a statement. 

"After reviewing Judge Jackson’s record and testimony, I have concluded that she is a well-qualified jurist and a person of honor. 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. 

REPUBLICAN SUPPORT:GOP Sen. Susan Collins will vote for Ketanji Brown Jackson, bipartisan support for historic Supreme Court nominee

FILE - Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson meets with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 8, 2022.  Collins will vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson, giving Democrats at least one Republican vote and all but assuring that she will become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) ORG XMIT: DCCK134

KEY DEMOCRAT IN FAVOR:Manchin to vote for Ketanji Brown Jackson, probably ensuring she will be the first Black woman on Supreme Court

As a result, Jackson is all but ensured to be confirmed.

The Senate is evenly split between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. If a simple majority of 51 vote for her, Jackson is confirmed. If the Senate deadlocks at 50-50, Vice President Kamala Harris (acting as the Senate president) would break the tie and provide Jackson with the deciding vote.

With Democrats and three Republicans backing the nomination, Jackson appears to have enough votes to be confirmed without Harris' help.

Still, Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., cautioned that the fight to confirm Jackson isn’t done until the final vote takes place. 

“It ain't over,’’ he said last week. “Watch any basketball games lately? How many of them went down to the last basket. That's what we're facing."

"Things beyond our control can change this outcome," he said. If a Democratic senator tested positive for the coronavirus, for example, and was unable to vote, the confirmation could be pushed back. 

Monday's committee vote was delayed by one such factor outside the Senate's control: a passenger's medical emergency on Democratic committee member Alex Padilla's flight back to Washington from California Sunday night.

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., questions Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

The flight was turned around, and Padilla was delayed getting back to Washington to vote until Monday afternoon. The committee broke for recess until he was able to make it in person to vote in Jackson's favor. In a split committee and a split Senate, any outside circumstance could affect the confirmation process. 

“We're living in that world, a 50-50 world where every vote can make the difference as to whether or not she's going to be confirmed,” Durbin said. 

Republicans continue to criticize Jackson

Republican committee members resurrected their attacks on Jackson before the vote.

During the hearings, they pressed Jackson on her record sentencing defendants in child pornography cases and as a federal public defender representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the facility in Cuba holding inmates accused of being enemy combatants in the war on terror. In at times acrimonious questioning, members pushed Jackson to explain her views of controversial political issues such as court-packing, critical race theory and transgender rights.

“Her record on crime is out of the mainstream, her record on crime is extreme,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Cruz, who went to school with Jackson, said, "I've known Judge Jackson for 30 years, I've always liked her personally." Likewise, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., couched his attacks on Jackson with praise of her character.

"I can say definitively that I like her, she's a good person, but I cannot support her," Hawley said before leveling attacks on her sentencing decisions in child pornography cases. 

Others on the committee voiced concern about her judicial philosophy.

"A judge must call balls and strikes, and given what I've seen and her unwillingness to disclose her judicial philosophy and disavow an expansive view of unenumerated rights, I have concerns that Judge Jackson will be pinch hitting for one team or the other. I will vote no," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of only three Republicans who voted to confirm Jackson to her position on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, said the Supreme Court is different, and he reiterated that he would not vote for her nomination. 

"I'll vote no, first time I've ever voted against any Supreme Court nominee," Graham said.

Democrats highlight historical vote

Democrats used their time Monday to reiterate support for Jackson and underscore the historic nature of the vote. 

"It's the first time the committee has had the opportunity to advance the nomination of a black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. This is a historic moment for the committee, and for America," Durbin said. 

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a close ally of President Joe Biden, compared Jackson to Ruby Bridges, one of the first Black students to integrate a public school after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

"So, too, I found that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson conducted herself in questioning here with her head held high, with a sense of confidence in our constitution, in our democracy and in the rule of law," Coons said.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., one of only three Black senators, quoted poet Maya Angelou during Monday's session. Last month, Booker brought Jackson to tears during the hearings with an emotional speech about the significance of her nomination.

"You may try to write me down in history with your bitter, twisted lies, you may trod me in the very dirt, but still like dust, I rise," Booker said Monday. "Rise, sister Jackson; rise, Judge Jackson, all the way to the highest court in the land."

Supreme Court Associate Justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearing on March 22, 2022 in Washington.

Contributing: Deborah Berry