The U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday by a vote of 52-47, making her the first African-American female justice on the highest court in the country.
Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the historic moment, even though Democrats did not need her tie-breaking vote in the evenly divided Senate to confirm Jackson.
Three Republicans — Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney — all voted to approve the 51-year-old judge, only the third African American justice in the Supreme Court’s history.
In a four-day hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Democrats praised Jackson for her depth of experience, serving as a judge for nearly 10 years at the federal and appellate levels, and clerking for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who U.S. President Joe Biden nominated her to replace.
“She is a once-in-a-generation legal talent,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin said ahead of her confirmation vote Thursday.
“With Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the highest court in the land, we are not only making history, we are carrying on a great American tradition — elevating one of our nation’s best and brightest legal minds to an honored position of service. There’s no one more deserving of this high honor,” said Durbin. “As we’ve learned over the past month, she is the best of us. She has devoted her life to serving our country. She’s done so at every level of the federal judiciary, and at every turn, she’s distinguished herself.”
Jackson is also the first public defender to serve on the Supreme Court. But her background representing defendants and later experiences sentencing child pornographers drew complaints from Senate Republicans who say she is soft on crime.
“On average nationally, every federal district judge sentences those convicted of distribution of child pornography to 135 months, which is 75 months more than the mandatory minimum sentence. Judge Jackson, on average, sentenced those same defendants to just 11.9 months more than the mandatory minimum sentence. This is a disturbing pattern,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz told reporters Thursday ahead of Jackson’s confirmation.
Jackson’s seating does not alter the court’s 6-3 conservative-dominated balance. But Republicans expressed concern about voting for a justice who they say will be further to the left of Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, who were both nominated by Democratic presidents.
“Her judicial record is full of cases where Judge Jackson ruled like a policymaker implementing personal biases instead of a judge following text where it led,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday.
But for Democrats and the Biden White House, the lifetime appointment of Jackson is a victory in what has been an often-difficult year for them.
“A joyous, momentous, groundbreaking day,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday. “This milestone should have happened generations ago, but we are always trotting on a path toward a more perfect union. Nevertheless, America today is taking a giant step towards making our union more perfect.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told VOA, “I’m emotional about that, as well. I’m proud. I am. It’s taken too long for this to happen. But it’s a historic moment, and it’s one that I am so proud to be here to witness. And I look forward to what she will be able to accomplish on the court.”
Jackson joins three other female justices on the court — Sotomayor, Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett — marking the first time the court has had four women at the same time.
VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.