Senate Confirms Ketanji Brown Jackson, First Black Woman on Supreme Court

U.S. President Joe Biden congratulates Ketanji Brown Jackson moments after the U.S. Senate confirmed her in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on April 7, 2022. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

All’s well that ends well, they say. The U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday afternoon by a 53-47 vote, with three Republicans joining all 50 Democrats. She will succeed the retiring Stephen Breyer as an Associate Justice of the Court at the end of the current term, likely late June or early July.

Jackson’s path to becoming the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court was marred by confirmation hearings in which several Republican senators descended into demagogic and highly selective attacks on her record. Their aim was to associate Jackson and the Democratic Party that sponsored her nomination as soft on crime and indifferent to child-sex predators. But her patience and fortitude in handling this nastiness elevated her already high reputation. There was never any doubt that she would be confirmed, which made it even clearer that the high jinks of Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, and Marsha Blackburn were about GOP midterm messaging more than the historic nomination itself. Jackson’s qualifications and performance in the hearings also got rave reviews from the public; polls show she could be the most popular Supreme Court nominee since surveys began asking about them.

Jackson will be just the third Black justice (preceded by Thurgood Marshall and current Court veteran Clarence Thomas) and only the sixth woman to serve in that role (following Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and current Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett). She is the first Floridian to join the Court, but is the 22nd graduate of Harvard Law School to achieve this distinction. At 51, Justice Jackson will be the second-youngest member of the current Court (she’s just over a year older than Justice Barrett).

The new justice has won a broad array of accolades ranging from the unanimous “well qualified” recommendation from the American Bar Association to support from illustrious conservative judges and legal luminaries. Despite her relative youth, in addition to service as a public defender and as an officer of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Jackson has “more judicial experience than 43 of the last 58 justices to take the bench, and more than current Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett had, combined, when they were confirmed,” notes CNN Supreme Court analyst Steve Vladeck.

As my colleague Irin Carmon acutely observed, the question by the end of the confirmation hearings was not so much whether Jackson deserved to be on the Supreme Court as whether the Court deserved her presence. She will join a distinct minority of progressive Supreme Court members, but between her skills at building consensus and the uncertain future shape of the Court, her contributions could matter a great deal in the decades to come.

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Senate Confirms Jackson, First Black Woman on Supreme Court