WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nexstar/AP) — The U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court on Thursday, securing her place as the court’s first Black female justice. As expected, Texas’ Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz voted against her nomination, in what was a near-party-line vote of 53-47.
Jackson, a 51-year-old appeals court judge with nine years of experience on the federal bench. In her confirmation, Jackson made history by becoming the third Black justice and only the sixth woman in the court’s more than 200-year history. Despite voting against her, both Cruz and Cornyn called this “inspirational” and “long overdue,” respectively.
Before the Senate took a vote, a group of Senate Republicans joined a press conference led by Cruz to air their grievances about Jackson’s expected confirmation. Cruz was joined by Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Cruz, who was a classmate with Jackson at Harvard Law School, called her nomination “out of the mainstream.” Both Cruz and Cornyn were initially critical of President Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman to the high court, saying at the time he should be considering any and all qualified judges.
“Based on a record, I think we can anticipate that she will vote consistently to undermine the constitutional rights of Americans,” Cruz said at the GOP press conference before the Senate vote.
The Texas senators also voted against her nomination to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit in June of 2021.
The only three Republicans to vote for her nomination were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.
Cornyn and Cruz’s questioning during Jackson’s confirmation hearings
Both Texas senators are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held four days of hours-long confirmation hearings with one-on-one questioning of Jackson in late March.
The two played an instrumental role in Senate Republicans’ almost united opposition to Jackson. At times, Cornyn pressed Jackson over her work as a federal public defender and questioned the Supreme Court’s role in establishing rights not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution, like its 2015 landmark ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.
“I told Judge Jackson it’s deeply concerning to me and to the people I represent that five unelected and unaccountable Justices could upend the will of the people by invalidating laws or inventing a new right out of whole cloth,” Cornyn said during floor remarks on March 31. “Ultimately, I fear Judge Jackson has a blind spot when it comes to judge-made law, and she would use her seat on the Supreme Court to create new rights out of whole cloth and engage in result-oriented decision-making.”
Jackson is the first federal public defender to be nominated to the Supreme Court and her efforts representing those accused of crimes, alongside her work as a federal judge, have provided a lengthy record of difficult cases for senators to review.
Cruz focused on the emotional and disputed debate over the judge’s sentences for child pornography offenders to portray her as soft on crime. Critics say she brings too much “empathy” to the law.
In one tense moment, Cruz demanded to know why Jackson handed down lighter sentences in a series of cases he had displayed on a chart than the government prosecutors or guidelines recommended. Her sentencing record has been considered mainstream, according to fact checkers and legal experts throughout the U.S.
Jackson had said that no single one sentence could stand in for all the sentences she has handed down in nearly a decade on the bench, and that she weighs all aspects of the case before her.
“I’ve said what I’m going to say about these cases,” she said.
Cruz is regarded as a likely 2024 presidential candidate, and his questioning was in line with issues that are popular with the GOP base. He questioned Jackson about critical race theory, a premise that centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions. Jackson said the idea doesn’t come up in her work as a judge, and it “wouldn’t be something I would rely on” if confirmed.
The Texas senator also questioned her about her daughter’s private school in Washington, where she sits on the board, bringing up a book called “Antiracist Baby” he said was taught to younger children at the school.
“Do you agree with this book that is being taught for kids that babies are racist?” Cruz asked.
Visibly frustrated, Jackson took a long pause. She said no children should be made to feel they are racists, victims or oppressors. “I don’t believe in any of that,” she said.
Jackson will take her seat when Justice Stephen Breyer retires this summer, solidifying the liberal wing of the 6-3 conservative-dominated court. She joined Biden at the White House to watch the vote, embracing as it came in. The two were expected to speak, along with Harris, at the White House Friday.
Once sworn in, Jackson would be the second-youngest member of the court after Barrett, 50. She would join a court in which no one is yet 75, the first time that has happened in nearly 30 years.