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Two more Republicans back Jackson as Senate moves toward confirmation


From left, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) speaks with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as the committee meets on President Joe Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on Monday, April 4, 2022.

By Carl Hulse


A nearly unified wall of GOP opposition to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson cracked slightly earlier this week as two more Senate Republicans said they would side with Democrats in supporting her, paving the way for her confirmation as the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.


Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, joined Susan Collins, R-Maine, in lending their support to Jackson, defying deep resistance in their party to the nominee. The GOP opposition was underscored anew Monday when all 11 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted against the nomination.


That prompted Democrats to use an unusual procedure to force the nomination out of the deadlocked panel with a vote of the full Senate, which agreed to the move by a vote of 53-47.


The three Republicans gave President Joe Biden at least a modicum of the bipartisan backing he had hoped for before a confirmation vote now expected as early as Thursday. And it was a counterpoint to the bitterly partisan debate over Jackson, in which Republicans on the judiciary panel attacked her as a liberal partisan with a questionable record, glossing over her qualifications and experience in hearings that featured the airing of conservative grievances, accusations of leniency toward child sexual abusers and divisive questions, including how she would define the word “woman.”


In a statement announcing her support for Jackson, Murkowski, who is not on the committee, said she was backing the nominee in part to reject “the corrosive politicization of the review process for Supreme Court nominees, which, on both sides of the aisle, is growing worse and more detached from reality by the year.”


She also praised the judge’s “qualifications, which no one questions; her demonstrated judicial independence; her demeanor and temperament; and the important perspective she would bring to the court” in replacing Justice Stephen Breyer.


Romney, in his statement, called Jackson “a well-qualified jurist and a person of honor.”


Their support came after another contentious day in the Judiciary Committee, during which Republicans spent hours vehemently reiterating their opposition to her elevation. The NAACP called the resulting deadlock in the panel a “stain” on the committee, and Democrats moved immediately to force the nomination to the floor with a vote of the full Senate.


“We shouldn’t have to be taking this step, but we are moving forward all the same without delay despite Republicans opposing her in committee,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader, said before the vote.


In the Judiciary Committee meeting Monday, Republicans rehashed the main attack lines against the judge that dominated a combative set of confirmation hearings last month, calling her a progressive activist who was soft on crime, while Democrats praised her qualifications and demeanor and said Biden’s nominee deserved to be confirmed.


“This is a historic moment for the committee and America,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chair of the panel.


While they did not dispute the import of Jackson’s nomination nor her legal qualifications, committee Republicans continued to rail against her on a variety of fronts, even as some prominent conservatives called their criticisms baseless. They criticized the sentences she handed down in child sex abuse cases, her refusal to state a personal judicial philosophy, her past representation of terrorism detainees as a public defender and her deep support among progressive advocacy groups.


“This choice of Judge Jackson was really embraced by the most radical people in the Democratic movement to the exclusion of everyone else,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a former supporter of Jackson who has become a fierce opponent.


It was a mark of how bitterly divided the chamber has grown over approving Supreme Court nominees, once regarded by members of both parties as a matter of allowing the president his chosen candidate to serve on the court.


Republicans continued to question Jackson’s credibility, citing her resistance to calls to outline her philosophical approach, with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, saying the response showed a lack of candor.


“Someone of her impressive caliber surely has a judicial philosophy, but maybe she just doesn’t want to talk about it,” Cornyn said.


In response, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., accused Republicans of creating a caricature of Jackson that is “so far out of the lines” of reality considering her deep credentials and experience. He said he had heard from people who asked: “How could they create these exaggerations? How could they disrespect a person like her, who has done everything right in her life and in her journey?”


Democrats defended Jackson’s record, noting — in line with several independent analysts — that her sentencing history has fallen well within the mainstream of the federal judiciary, and accusing Republicans and conservative groups of distorting her record. They pointed to her strong support from law enforcement groups and said that many Trump administration nominees had issued similar sentences but were uniformly approved by the same Republicans lining up against Jackson.


Democrats said the Republican assault was as much about the coming midterm elections as it was about Jackson herself.


“The principal goal here is about stirring up political division and scoring political points,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.


The support of the three Republicans undercut the assault by their colleagues.


In her statement, Murkowski said the judge’s backing “from law enforcement agencies around the country is significant and demonstrates the judge is one who brings balance to her decisions.”

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