POLITICS

'We've made it. All of us': Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden celebrate historic Supreme Court confirmation

  • Jackson makes history as the first Black woman and first federal public defender to sit on the court.
  • Jackson will replace Associate Justice Stephen Breyer after he retires at the end of the term.
  • The White House ceremony comes amid a wave of positive COVID-19 cases among top Biden officials.

WASHINGTON — The sun shined bright for the first time in three days in Washington, D.C., a literal reflection of the mood Friday as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris celebrated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's historic confirmation to the Supreme Court.

“I have dedicated my career to public service, because I love this country and our Constitution and the rights that make us free,” Jackson said in emotional remarks to several hundred prominent Democrats, civil rights leaders and White House officials gathered on the White House's South Lawn.

The Senate confirmed Jackson on Thursday, giving the White House and Democratic allies an opportunity to take a victory lap with the first Black woman headed to the Supreme Court.

President Joe Biden and confirmed Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson on April 8, 2022.

Jackson said she has spent the past decade writing hundreds of opinions on thousands of cases where she has done her “best to stay in my lane and to reach a result that is consistent with my understanding of the law and with the obligation to rule independently without fear or favor.”

“I am humbled and honored to continue in this fashion as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, working with brilliant colleagues, supporting and defending the Constitution and steadfastly upholding the rule of law,” she continued.

Jackson also took a moment to speak specifically to Black women, noting, "It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.

"But we've made it. We've made it. All of us."

'You will inspire generations of leaders'

Before she addressed the crowd, the president hailed the historic nature and value of Jackson's confirmation.

"This is not only a sunny day, I mean this from the bottom my heart. This is going to let so much sun shine on so many young women, so many young Black women," Biden said. "We're gonna look back – nothing to do with me – we're gonna look back and see this as a moment of real change in American history."

Harris kicked off the ceremony, saying Jackson will join a court that “will answer fundamental questions about who we are and what kind of country we live in.”

“You will inspire generations of leaders,” said Harris, the first Black and woman vice president who presided over the Senate's vote confirming Jackson. “They will watch your confirmation hearings and read your decisions in the years to come.”

"Today is indeed a wonderful day."

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's husband Dr. Patrick Jackson and daughter Leila Jackson arrive on the South Lawn of the White House where President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris and Judge Jackson, will speak and celebrate the confirmation of Judge Jackson as the first Black woman to reach the Supreme Court, Friday, April 8, 2022 in Washington.

The Senate voted 53-47 Thursday to confirm Jackson, a U.S. appeals court judge for the D.C. district. Three Republicans – Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah – joined all 50 Democratic senators to confirm the 116th justice. She will replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. 

More:Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed by Senate as first Black woman on Supreme Court

As Biden struggles with low approval numbers, Jackson's confirmation marks a major victory for him and his party. The president has been dogged by high inflation, the ongoing pandemic and Russia's war in Ukraine. 

More:Jackson confirmed in a hurry. Getting on the Supreme Court? That'll take time.

Biden vowed to nominate the nation's first African American Supreme Court justice during the 2020 presidential campaign, eventually choosing the 51-year-old Jackson over two other candidates he interviewed. He nominated Jackson on Feb. 25, setting off a quick seven-week confirmation process. 

"I could see it – a day of hope, a day of promise, a day of progress," Biden said of his long desire for a Black woman to be elevated to the nation's highest court. 

While Republican members of the committee largely praised Jackson's character and demeanor, they seized on her sentencing in child pornography cases to accuser her of being soft on crime. They also pushed Jackson on hot political wedge issues such as gender identity and critical race theory. But with Collins, Romney and Murkowski bucking their party to support Biden's nominee, the White House was able to avoid a potential tie in the evenly divided Senate. 

Biden said he knew whoever he nominated would be “put through a painful and difficult confirmation process.” 

“But I have to tell you, what Judge Jackson was put through was well beyond that,” he said. “It was verbal abuse. The anger, the constant interruptions, the most vile, baseless assertions and accusations.” 

Biden said despite the attacks, Jackson showcased “patience and restraint” and joy. “In the face of it all, Judge Jackson showed the incredible character and integrity she possesses."

Vice President Kamala Harris, accompanied by President Joe Biden and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, speaks during an event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, April 8, 2022, celebrating the confirmation of Jackson as the first Black woman to reach the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The White House ceremony came amid a wave of positive COVID-19 cases among top Biden officials and other high-ranking Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Jamal Simmons, communications director for Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden's sister, Valerie Biden Owens, also tested positive for COVID-19. 

More:Speaker Nancy Pelosi tests positive for COVID-19 as outbreak spreads among government officials in DC

The White House has said Biden was not in "close contact" according to CDC guidelines with any of the official including Pelosi, who interacted with Biden at White House events both Tuesday and Wednesday. 

The White House did not take additional precautions such as testing, social distancing or masking requirements for the ceremony. Psaki pushed back at comparisons between Friday's event for Jackson and a 2020 White House celebration hosted by thenPresident Donald Trump for Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which turned into a super-spreader gathering.

"At that point in time, vaccines were unavailable. People were not vaccinated," Psaki said. "It certainly puts us in a different space."

Attendees included several cabinet members; among them, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge. Ten Senators were also in attendance, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, who oversaw Jackson's confirmation as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. They were joined by dozens of House members led by several members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The Rev. Al Sharpton and civil rights attorney Ben Crump also attended. 

Guests sat in white fold-out chairs, eight rows deep, as an orchestra played to the side before the president’s arrival. Most in attendance were not wearing masks despite the wave of recent positive COVID-19 cases.

Jackson might have to wait as long as three months before officially joining the nation's highest court. Breyer, who announced his retirement in January, has said he intends to finish the Supreme Court term, which will probably end in late June or early July.

Jackson used much of her speech to thank those she said made her rise possible. They included her grandparents who did not get past grade school; her parents educated in segregated schools; her Harvard College roommates; mentors including Breyer; senators and White House aides; and her family. Jackson's husband, Patrick Jackson, beamed from the front row as they watched.

Jackson also thanked her many admirers, especially children, who reached out to her with congratulatory letters since Biden nominated her.

"Our children are telling me that they see now, more than ever, that here in America anything is possible," Jackson said, adding that she's "standing on the shoulders" of so many Americans who did not have her opportunities but "believed in the promise of America." She called herself "just the very lucky first inheritor of the dream of liberty and justice for all."

"No one does this on their own. The path was cleared for me so that I might rise to this occasion," she said, before quoting the poet Maya Angelou: "I am the dream and hope of the slave."

Contributing: Dylan Wells and John Fritze

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison and Rebecca Morin @rebeccamorin_