WASHINGTON (AP) — After more than 30 hours of hearings, the Senate is on track to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman on the Supreme Court. But Democrats seem unlikely to back it up with a robust bipartisan vote, dashing President Joe Biden’s hopes of a big reset after partisan battles against other high court candidates.
On Thursday, just hours after the hearings ended, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would vote against Jackson’s confirmation. He said in a speech to the Senate that he “cannot and will not” support her for a lifetime appointment.
McConnell has criticized liberal groups who have backed Jackson, and he criticized her for refusing to take a position on the size of the nine-member tribunal, even though that decision is ultimately up to Congress. Some advocacy groups have pushed to expand the court after three judges appointed by former President Donald Trump cemented a 6-3 conservative majority.
McConnell also raised concerns about her sentencing of criminal defendants — a topic that dominated much of the four days of hearings and was part of a coordinated GOP effort to portray her as soft on crime.
His position was expected, and does not affect Jackson’s trajectory which will be confirmed by mid-April. But the leader’s quick statement could prompt many of his fellow Republicans to follow suit, thwarting Biden’s efforts to bring back the overwhelming bipartisan votes that were commonplace for Supreme Court nominees when he first arrived in the Senate ago. five decades.
“I think whoever I choose will get a vote on the Republican side,” Biden said after Judge Stephen Breyer announced he would leave court this summer. As he began his search for a replacement, the president made a point of inviting Republican senators to the White House to hear their advice.
While many GOP senators praised Jackson’s vast experience and qualifications, it was clear during the hearings that Biden’s outreach had little effect.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Jackson about his nine-year record as a federal judge, frequently interrupting his answers. Jackson, backed by committee Democrats, aggressively pushed back against Republicans who said she handed out lenient sentences to sex offenders, detailing her sentencing process and telling them “nothing could be further from the truth”.
The focus on crime dovetails with an emerging GOP theme for this year’s midterm elections and will likely be decisive for many Republican senators. Others cited separate reasons for voting against her – from her support of liberal groups to her so-called “judicial philosophy”.
One or more Republicans could still vote for Jackson’s confirmation, but the contentious nature of the four-day hearings laid bare a familiar partisan dynamic seen over years of bitter struggles for judicial nominations.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, who has privately lobbied his GOP colleagues to support Jackson, said after McConnell’s announcement that he would be “sad for our country and sad as a comment on the current state of the parties” if his historic nomination is approved on a strictly partisan vote. “Republicans are testing their messaging for the November election,” Durbin said.
Durbin said he “still hopes more Republicans — hopefully many more” will vote for her.
Alternatively, Democrats can confirm Jackson without any GOP support in the Senate 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie.
As discussions turned to the upcoming vote, the judiciary panel held its final day of Senate hearings on Thursday with a panel of top lawyers, who said their review found Jackson had a reputation ” serious” and “exceptional” competence and that he was well qualified to sit. The Supreme Court.
“Outstanding, excellent, superior, superb,” testified Ann Claire Williams, chair of the American Bar Association’s committee that makes recommendations on federal judges. “These are the comments of virtually everyone we interviewed.”
Williams said the group spoke to more than 250 Jackson judges and attorneys. “The question we kept asking ourselves: how can a human being do so many things so extraordinarily?”
Jackson would be the third black judge, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and the sixth woman. She would also be the court’s first former public defender and the first judge with experience representing indigent defendants since Marshall. His confirmation would not alter the current 6-3 conservative majority on the ground.
Durbin noted during Thursday’s hearing that some Republican senators have argued that Jackson is out of the mainstream when it comes to sentencing, and he asked the ABA if such a concern would have surfaced during their interviews with the judges and lawyers who have worked with her.
“It was never mentioned in any of those interviews,” Williams said.
In interrogations Tuesday and Wednesday, GOP senators aggressively questioned Jackson about the sentences she handed down to child porn offenders during her nine years as a federal judge, her legal defense on behalf of detained terrorist suspects. at Guantanamo Bay, his reflections on critical race theory and even his religious views.
Most of the hours of interrogation were devoted to the details of the child pornography cases, with the discussion led by several GOP senators eyeing the presidency.
Pushing back, Jackson said she was basing the sentences on many factors, not just federal guidelines. Sentencing is not a “numbers game,” she said, noting that there are no mandatory sentences for sex offenders and that there has been significant debate over the subject. The Democratic senators cited outside experts who said his sentences were within the norm.
Some of those cases gave him nightmares, Jackson said, and were “some of the worst I’ve seen.”
The GOP’s criticism was countered by effusive praise from Democrats and reflections on the historic nature of his nomination. Most gripping came from New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who used his time Wednesday not to ask questions, but to speak tearfully and draw tears from Jackson as well.
Booker, who is black, said he sees “my ancestors and yours” when he looks at Jackson.
“I know what it took for you to sit here in this seat,” Booker said. “You have earned this place.”
Associated Press writers Mark Sherman, Jessica Gresko, Lisa Mascaro and Colleen Long in Washington and Aaron Morrison in New York contributed to this report.