WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee took up debate on Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination for Supreme Court justice on Monday as Democrats aimed to confirm her by the end of the week as the first Black woman on the court.
The committee could deadlock on Monday’s vote, 11-11, meaning Democrats would have to spend additional hours on the Senate floor to “discharge” her nomination. While that wouldn’t delay the process for long, it would be another blow for Democrats who had hoped to confirm Jackson with bipartisan support.
President Joe Biden urged senators to support her in a tweet as the committee meeting began.
“Judge Jackson will bring extraordinary qualifications, deep experience and intellect, and a rigorous judicial record to the Supreme Court,” Biden tweeted. “She deserves to be confirmed as the next justice.”
If the committee does deadlock, it will launch a whirlwind of panel votes and then Senate floor action with the goal of a final confirmation vote by Friday. With the support of at least one Republican, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Jackson is on a glidepath toward confirmation to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.
After more than 30 hours of hearings and interrogation from Republicans over her record, Jackson is on the brink of making history as the third Black justice and only the sixth woman in the court’s more than 200-year history. Democrats cite her deep experience in nine years on the federal bench and the chance for her to become the first former public defender on the court.
The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said as he opened Monday’s meeting that Jackson has “the highest level of skill, integrity, civility and grace.”
“This committee’s action today in nothing less than making history,” Durbin said. “I’m honored to be a part of it. I will strongly and proudly support Judge Jackson’s nomination.”
But the committee’s top Republican, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, said he was opposing Jackson’s nomination because “she and I have fundamental, different views on the role of judges and the role that they should play in our system of government.”
The committee hasn’t deadlocked since 1991, when Biden was chairman of the panel and a motion to send the nomination of current Justice Clarence Thomas to the floor with a “favorable” recommendation failed on a 7-7 vote. The committee then voted to send the nomination to the floor without a recommendation, meaning it could still be brought up for a vote.
A deadlocked vote on Jackson would be “a truly unfortunate signal of the continued descent into dysfunction of our confirmation process,” Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat on the committee, said last week.
So far, Democrats know they will have at least one GOP vote in favor on the floor — Collins, who announced last week that she will support the nominee. Collins said that even though she may not always agree with her, Jackson “possesses the experience, qualifications and integrity to serve as an associate justice on the Supreme Court.”
It’s unclear so far whether any other Republicans will join her. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky set the tone for the party last week when he said he “cannot and will not” support Jackson, citing GOP concerns raised in the hearing about her sentencing record and her support from liberal advocacy groups.
Collins and Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were the only three to vote for Jackson when the Senate confirmed her as an appeals court judge last year. Graham said Thursday he won’t support her this time around; Murkowski says she’s still deciding.
Collins’ support likely saves Democrats from having to use Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote to confirm Biden’s pick, and the president called Collins on Wednesday to thank her. Biden had called her at least three times before the hearings, part of a major effort to win a bipartisan vote for his historic nominee.
It is expected that all 50 Democrats will support Jackson, though one notable moderate Democrat, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, hasn’t yet said how she will vote.