Mary Clare Jalonick, Becky Bohrer and Kevin Freking
WASHINGTON — Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney say they will vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s “historic nomination” to the Supreme Court, bolstering bipartisan support for the first Black woman to be nominated for the court.
The senators from Alaska and Utah announced their decisions Monday evening ahead of a procedural Senate vote to advance the nomination. They join Sen. Susan Collins of Maine as Republicans who say they will support Jackson.
Jackson, a federal appellate court judge, was nominated by President Joe Biden to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.
Murkowksi said her decision to support Jackson’s confirmation “also rests on my rejection of the corrosive politicization” of the Senate’s process for Supreme Court nominees, which she said is growing worse and more detached from reality by the year.”
She said, “While I have not and will not agree with all of Judge Jackson’s decisions and opinions, her approach to cases is carefully considered and is generally well-reasoned.”
The GOP senators' announcements come as Democrats are taking steps to confirm Jackson by the end of the week.
Earlier Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked, 11-11, on whether to send Jackson’s nomination to the Senate floor. But Biden’s nominee was still on track to be confirmed this week as the first Black woman on the high court.
The committee’s tie vote was expected. There is an even party split on the panel, and all of the Republicans are opposing Jackson's nomination to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. But it was still a blow to Democrats who had hoped for robust bipartisan support. It was the first time the committee has deadlocked on a Supreme Court nomination in three decades.
In order to move forward, Democrats were voting to “discharge” Jackson’s nomination from committee Monday evening and then to take a series of procedural steps in coming days to wind it through the 50-50 Senate. With the support of at least one Republican, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Jackson is on a glidepath toward confirmation by the end of the week.
“Judge Jackson will bring extraordinary qualifications, deep experience and intellect, and a rigorous judicial record to the Supreme Court,” Biden tweeted Monday. “She deserves to be confirmed as the next justice.”
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 her 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 at 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.”
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 hadn’t deadlocked since 1991, when Biden was chairman 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.
Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat on the committee, said last week that a panel tie vote on Jackson would be “a truly unfortunate signal of the continued descent into dysfunction of our confirmation process,”
So far, Democrats know they will have at least one GOP vote in the full Senate — Collins, who announced last week that she would support the nominee. Collins said that though they may not always agree, Jackson “possesses the experience, qualifications and integrity to serve as an associate justice on the Supreme Court.”
It’s unclear 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 backing from liberal advocacy groups.
Republicans on the Judiciary panel continued their push Monday to paint Jackson as soft on crime, defending their repeated questions about her sentencing on sex crimes.
“Questions are not attacks,” said Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, one of several GOP senators on the panel who hammered the point in the hearings two weeks ago.
Jackson pushed back on the GOP narrative, declaring that “nothing could be further from the truth.” Democrats said she was in line with other judges in her decisions. And on Monday they criticized their GOP counterparts' questioning.
“You could try and create a straw man here, but it does not hold,” said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
The questioning was filled with “absurdities of disrespect,” said Booker, who also is Black, and he said he will “rejoice” when she is confirmed.
Derrick Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, expressed disappointment with the tie, even as he noted that Jackson had cleared an important hurdle. He said “history will be watching" during the full Senate vote later this week.
“It’s a stain on the committee that this vote was not unanimous but instead was a tied vote along party lines," Johnson said.
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 said she was still deciding.
Collins’ support likely saves the 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.