Senate starts voting Monday on Jackson’s Supreme Court bid

Ahead of the vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee spent more than three hours debating Jackson’s nomination Monday, with its 22 members sparring over Jackson’s qualifications for sitting on the nation’s highest court. Jackson, 51, was confirmed to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit less than a year ago after nearly a decade as a federal trial court judge in Washington.

The panel tied 11-11, but under Senate rules, it can now be advanced to the Senate floor.

In remarks opening the meeting, Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) called the panel’s vote a “historic moment” in a nod to the pathbreaking nature of Jackson’s nomination. He praised her “impeccable qualifications” and said she would bring “the highest level of skill, integrity, civility and grace” to the court.

“Hers is a uniquely American family story, how much hope and promise can be achieved in just one generation,” he said. “I’m proud we can bear witness to it.”

The Judiciary Committee — which, like the full Senate, is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans — hit a snag because of the absence of one Judiciary Committee member, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), whose redeye flight from Los Angeles on Sunday night was amused due to an unrelated medical emergency. Durbin recessed the committee meeting shortly after 1 pm to await Padilla’s arrival.

The tie vote forced Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) to put a measure on the Senate floor discharging Jackson’s nomination from the committee, a vote that is expected to occur Monday night. Her final confirmation vote on the Senate floor would happen Thursday or Friday.

As the Senate heads into the final week of Jackson’s confirmation battle, the last-minute deliberations of a handful of GOP senators are being closely watched to see whether her support will grow beyond one Republican.

Their decisions will come after two days of tense hearings last month where several Republican senators sharply grilled Jackson on her record as a trial judge — particularly her sentencing decisions in some child pornography cases. Multiple GOP senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have cited that record in their opposition to her, calling her “soft on crime” the Republicans across the country gear up to run on that issue in November’s midterm elections.

At Monday’s meeting, Durbin made pointed comments about some Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. Without naming names, umbrage at those who “repeatedly interrupted and badgered Judge Jackson and took he of vile things in front of her parents, her husband and her children of her.”

“It is unfortunate that some moments in our hearing came to that,” he said. “But if there is one positive to take away from these attacks on her dela, it is that the nation saw the temperament of a good, strong person ready to serve on the highest court of the land.”

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, announced his expected opposition to Jackson at the top of the hearing, citing “fundamental different views on the role of judges and the role that they should play in our system of government.”

Grassley accused her of being evasive under questioning and of adopting a “lenient approach to criminal law and sentencing.” He focused not on her child pornography cases, but on her decision to reduce the felony sentence of a self-described drug kingpin under the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill passed during the Trump administration.

Jackson, Grassley said, made “a terrible and dangerous misinterpretation” of the law in choosing to halve the sentence of Keith Young, who was serving a 20-year term for drug trafficking and firearms convictions. Jackson defended her decision during her hearings last month, saying that the sentence reduction was permissible under the law and justified by the circumstances of the case.

“We need confidence that judges will interpret the law as they’re written,” Grassley said. “Judge Jackson’s reinterpretation law I helped to write doesn’t give me that confidence.”

Even sharper rhetoric cam from Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) — among the handful of panel members who signaled future presidential ambitions. Attacking Jackson’s nomination Monday, Cotton said the judge “habitually sympathizes with criminals over victims” and acted as “more of a defense attorney for criminals from the bench than a judge.”

“As a trial judge, Judge Jackson could only give the benefit of the doubt to one criminal at a time,” he said. “As a Supreme Court justice, she would be able to give the benefit to criminals nationwide.”

Cruz, a former and potential future presidential contender, made the connection between Jackson’s nomination and the GOP political case against Democrats plain in his comments Monday.

“Her record demonstrates that it is 100 percent certain she will vote to overturn the death penalty and that repeatedly she will vote to overturn strict sentences on violent criminals, to release violent criminals from jail, to overturn strict punishments on sex offenders,” he said . “And my Democratic colleagues like to say when crime is skyrocketing … it’s not my fault. Well, I’ll tell you what: When you vote to confirm justices who released criminals over and over and over again in a way that is wildly out of the mainstream, it is the Democrats’ fault.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) shot back at the GOP claims, noting that the Jackson handed down in the child porn cases usually met or exceeded the recommendations of federal probation officials — and she made note of several Republican-nominated judges who had made similar judgments in sentencing those types of cases.

“I don’t think they should be dragged into this just because they happened to make decisions that were below guidelines,” she said of the GOP judges. “But they could all have been dragged through the mud, too.”

Several Republicans cited not her criminal sentencing decisions but a civil case, brought by an activist group against the Trump administration challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s authority to quickly send illegal immigrants back to their home countries.

Jackson in that case ruled that a federal law giving the Homeland Security secretary discretion in those cases was trumped by another federal law governing executive decision-making. An appeals court decisionly bias overturned Jackson’s, and Republicans pointed to that evidence of ideological and political bias.

“She took the plain meaning of the statute, set it aside, did legal gymnastics to basically issue a temporary injunction,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.). “That to me says everything I need to know about how she’s going to govern. She she wants the outcome. She she’s going to find it. She she’s going to get it. Activist to the core.”

Graham voted last year to confirm Jackson to the appeals court seat she now holds — a vote he took after Jackson’s decision in the immigration case.

He explained his change of heart Monday by saying he was inclined to defer to presidents on lower-court nominations. “But now that you’re talking about the Supreme Court,” he said, “you’re making policy, not just bound by it.”

Channeling Democrats’ frustration at Jackson’s treatment, Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.) took aim Monday at GOP attempts to “create a caricature of a human being,” and noted that for all of the soft-on-crime attacks, she had the support of law enforcement and victims-rights organizations.

Booker, who gave an emotional speech during the hearings on Jackson’s behalf, said he had heard — particularly from Black women — about the “absurdities of disrespect that we saw Judge Jackson harden.”

“We are going to have our political substantive disagreements, but it was the treatment in some of these questions that triggered a hurt in so many people I know and have encountered,” Booker said. “How could they create these caricatures? How could they create these exaggerations? How could they disrespect a person like her who’s done everything right in her life and in her journey? How qualified do you have to be?”

While the partisan back-and-forth played out in the hearing room, speculation mounted about the few remaining unknown votes.

Although Romney opposed Jackson’s elevation to the federal appeals court last year, he has stressed that he comes into this confirmation round with an open mind, and he is being heavily courted by the judge’s supporters.

With Collins’s support, Jackson is expected to get at least 51 votes in the evenly divided Senate, meaning Vice President Harris will not have to break a tie.

“What I know is, she will get enough votes to get confirmed. In the end, I suppose, that’s the only thing that matters,” Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But I wish more Republicans would look at the case here, look at the record and vote to confirm Judge Jackson.”

If Jackson is confirmed as expected, her ascent to the Supreme Court is likely to be a key element of President Biden’s legacy, in no small part because he would be installing the first Black woman in the court’s more than two centuries of existence.

The confirmation battle shows how much more partisan Supreme Court nominations have become in recent decades. The late Justice Antonin Scalia, nominated by President Ronald Reagan, was confirmed 98 to 0 in 1986. The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nominated by President Bill Clinton, was confirmed 96 to 3 in 1993.

These days, any Supreme Court confirmation vote is almost certain to fall largely along partisan lines, reflecting the deepening polarization of the country — and the Senate.

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.) — one Republican whom Democrats had seen as a long-shot “yes” vote, in part he is retiring and did not have to fear political consequences — announced Sunday that he would oppose her confirmation.

Blunt applauded her historic nomination and said she was “certainly qualified” to serve on the court. But he cited her judicial philosophy explaining Jackson did her opposition, suggesting she not adhere to the strict words of the Constitution.

Her “judicial philosophy seems to be not the philosophy of looking at what the law says and the Constitution says and applying that, but going through some method that allows you to try to look at the Constitution as a more flexible document, and even the law , and there are cases that show that that’s her view,” Blunt said, also on “This Week.”

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