Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson – the first black woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States – is now the first black woman confirmed to the High Court. The Senate confirmed her 53-47, with all Democrats and the two Independents who caucus with them backing President Biden’s pick and the predicted three Republicans joining. All remaining Republicans voted against her, as they have each step of way. When Jackson takes the bench, it will be to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced his intention to step down – provided a suitable judge be nominated and confirmed. Breyer is expected to remain on the court until the justices take their summer recess, when Jackson will take his place.
Though it became clear in the first days of committee hearings that the GOP would largely reject Judge Jackson, it soon became just as clear that the opposition would fall short of what was needed halt the process. Throughout the proceedings, Republicans objected to the nominee’s evasive answers regarding her judicial philosophy and how she defines the role of a justice. They also took issue with her history of sentencing convicted criminals – especially in child pornography cases.
Despite numerous objections and speeches regarding why Judge Jackson should not join the top court in the nation, the Judiciary Committee tied 11-11 along party lines to advance her confirmation to a floor vote April 4. The Senate floor voted later that day to allow it 53-47, with Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (ME), and Mitt Romney (R-UT) joining the Democrats to achieve the necessary majority.
Those same three GOP Senators announced their intention to support the judge all the way, and they did. The vote to invoke cloture wrapped up just after noon, coming in at 50 Democrats and three Republicans in favor with 47 Republicans against, and the final confirmation vote followed immediately after.
Justice Breyer’s announcement that he would be leaving the High Court at the end of the current term paved the way for Biden’s nomination of Judge Jackson, but being contingent as it was on her confirmation, it was a risk-free proposition for the left. At 83 years old, Breyer is the oldest living currently serving justice. Still, the retirement isn’t because he’s tired of the job; he was quick to reject the “Breyer Retire” calls that sprang up once Biden took office. Instead, it’s clearly what’s called a strategic retirement. Though initially refusing, he eventually decided that ensuring his replacement fit the liberal mold was more important than staying on the bench as long as possible.
Should a Republican move into the White House in 2025, Breyer would have had four to eight years to hold on lest he make room for another conservative justice, widening the 6-3 conservative lead even more. Rather than bet on making it to 87 or even 91 – and that’s assuming a GOP president would be followed by another Democrat, which hasn’t always happened – he chose to bow out. Justice Brown, at 51, has potentially decades in the job ahead of her.