Collins to back Jackson for Supreme Court, giving her a GOP vote
By Carl Hulse
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine plans to vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, ensuring that President Joe Biden’s nominee and the first Black woman to be put forward for the post will receive at least one Republican backer.
But whether Collins’ support is singular or opens the door to Jackson attracting the votes of other Republicans remained to be seen. The universe of potential backers from across the aisle shrunk Wednesday with an announcement by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., that he would oppose the nominee. Tillis, a member of the Judiciary Committee, had once been seen as a potential vote for confirmation.
Even as he praised Jackson’s “knowledge, her composure and her character,” Tillis said he could not vote to put her on the court. “I still hold my initial concerns that she may legislate from the bench instead of consistently following the Constitution as written,” he said in a statement that also noted her refusal to condemn adding seats to the court — an issue multiple Republicans have cited as problematic.
The White House would dearly like to see more than one Republican back Jackson. They had hoped that the historic nature of her nomination would attract support from lawmakers who might view her as more liberal than they would prefer but still wanted to be counted among those supporting elevating a Black woman to the court. But after a bruising set of hearings at which Republicans attacked Jackson’s record and sought to portray her as a liberal extremist, most members of the party seem inclined to oppose her.
Despite a backlash from some quarters to the hostile and combative questioning of Jackson by multiple GOP members of the Judiciary Committee last week, Republicans privately said they thought the hearing did not inflict political damage on them. Instead, they argue that it helped them get across their midterm election message that Democrats are soft on crime and pushing an ultraliberal agenda, including transgender rights and a variety of efforts to address race, that alienates many Americans.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, underscored that theme Wednesday with another floor speech sharply critical of Jackson and her sentencing record, in which he said leniency was a “consistent thread” that ran through her career. Independent analyses have found that her sentencing history has fallen in the mainstream.
Collins made her decision to back the nomination after a second personal meeting with the judge Tuesday afternoon. Collins said Jackson had alleviated some concerns that surfaced after last week’s hearings.
The centrist senator, often a key vote on Supreme Court clashes, said that she had been reassured that Jackson would not be “bending the law to meet a personal preference” and that the nominee met her personal standard for serving on the court.
“In recent years, senators on both sides of the aisle have gotten away from what I perceive to be the appropriate process for evaluating judicial nominees,” she said. “In my view, the role under the Constitution assigned to the Senate is to look at the credentials, experience and qualifications of the nominee. It is not to assess whether a nominee reflects the individual ideology of a senator or would vote exactly as an individual senator would want.”
If Democrats stay united, Collins’ vote would avoid the spectacle of Vice President Kamala Harris having to break a tie to seat a nominee on the Supreme Court, an unprecedented outcome that some saw as potentially damaging to the court’s standing.
Among other Republicans on the White House wish list are two retiring senators, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Roy Blunt of Missouri, but it appeared unlikely that either of them would back her.
That leaves two other Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah, as the most promising prospects for crossover support of Jackson. Romney met with the judge Tuesday but said he had not made up his mind and probably would not reveal his decision until the vote, now expected next week. He said the announcement by Collins would not figure into his thinking.
“I make the decision based on my own analysis and evaluation,” he said.
Murkowski, who is running for reelection this year in a contest projected to be the most expensive and challenging of her career, also may not make her decision known until next week. While she has supported more Biden administration lower-court judicial nominees than many of her colleagues — including Jackson for her current spot on the appeals court — she voted against both justices former President Barack Obama named to the Supreme Court.
Collins, who sat down with Jackson for about 90 minutes before last week’s hearings, had a second, hourlong in-person meeting with the judge Tuesday afternoon in which the two hashed out several issues that came up before the Judiciary Committee.
During the hearings, Republicans on the panel raised questions about Jackson’s sentencing history on child sex abuse defendants and tried unsuccessfully to get her to express an opinion about whether seats should be added to the Supreme Court, as some progressives have advocated. Top Republicans, including some who were regarded as potential votes for Jackson, have seized on her refusal to provide an answer on expanding the court as an obstacle to her confirmation.
“I don’t understand that, because it’s not an issue that will come before her in the court, so she should as a nominee be able to talk about it,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And I’m concerned that she’s not been willing to do that.”
But Collins said Jackson had assured her in their conversation Tuesday that she “would forever stay out of that issue.”
Republicans also seized last week on a legal brief that Jackson filed on behalf of terrorism detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which accused former President George W. Bush of having committed war crimes when his administration tortured detainees. Collins said Jackson had explained during their meeting Tuesday that she had not intended to accuse Bush personally of being a war criminal but had used a common template for such cases.
“There can be no question that she is qualified to be a Supreme Court justice,” said Collins, citing Jackson’s “breadth of experience as a law clerk, attorney in private practice, federal public defender, member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and district court judge for more than eight years.”