Jackson faces growing GOP opposition on Supreme Court

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson answers questions during the second day her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.
Anna Rose Layden

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is facing a shrinking pool of potential GOP supporters for her Supreme Court confirmation as Republicans harden their opposition.  

Democrats can confirm Jackson without any Republican support if all 50 of their members are united and Vice President Harris breaks a tie. But they are hoping to peel off at least one GOP “yes” vote.  

Though Jackson avoided the type of misstep that would sink her nomination, GOP senators say the hearing did little to win over their members.  

“I think the read out from the members who have been in the hearing room for those of us who haven’t been in the hearing room is that she’s not changing minds,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator.  

“They were thinking that she might win people over. I think if anything a closer examination of her record … has probably moved some of our members in the opposite direction.”  

A second GOP senator added that “I didn’t think the hearings went as well for her as I thought they would,” pointing to Jackson’s handling of questions on sentencing.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) formally announced his expected opposition to her nomination after the hearings wrapped.  

“After studying the nominee’s record and watching her performance this week, I cannot and will not support Judge Jackson for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court,” McConnell said.  

Democrats and the White House remain hopeful that they will pick up Republican support for her nomination.  

“We’re going to get some GOP support. … I feel like we’re going to get some folks,” former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who is helping guide Jackson’s nomination through the Senate.  

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been in contact with Republican senators and didn’t rule out that Jackson could get their votes.  

“I still think there’s a chance. … I’ve talked to a few of them,” Durbin said, while declining to “name names.”

Total GOP opposition to Jackson, who would be the first Black female justice, would be historic.  

Getting no Republican votes for Jackson’s nomination would make her only the second Supreme Court justice in history to be confirmed by only one party. Justice Amy Coney Barrett was the first to claim that title in 2020, when Democratic senators and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voted against her. It would also make Jackson the first Supreme Court nominee to face a tie vote, which Harris can break, on the Senate floor.  

Republicans are saying they won’t boycott her vote in the Judiciary Committee, a hardball tactic they’ve used on other panels to try to bottle up Biden’s nominees, including a recent high-profile fight over Sarah Bloom Raskin’s Federal Reserve nomination.  

But Jackson appears increasingly likely to face a tie vote in the Judiciary Committee, which is evenly split 11-11.  

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) both voted to advance Jackson’s appeals court nomination in committee last year, letting her avoid a tie. Cornyn ultimately voted against her nomination before the full Senate and told The Hill that he wouldn’t split his vote in a similar way for her Supreme Court nomination.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who voted against Jackson’s appeals court nomination, has emerged as a potential sleeper “yes” vote to watch because of his more favorable interactions with Jackson during the high-profile committee hearings.

A tie vote in committee doesn’t sink Jackson’s nomination, but if Democrats are required to move to discharge her nomination from the committee to the full Senate, it adds an extra procedural step and hours of time onto the Senate’s actions.  

It would also be the first time a Supreme Court nominee has been forcibly discharged from the Judiciary Committee since 1853 with the nomination of William C. Micou, according to data from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Micou was never confirmed to the Supreme Court.  

It would also be the first tie vote for a Supreme Court nominee in the Judiciary Committee since Justice Clarence Thomas’s nomination. The committee initially deadlocked 7-7, with an effort to favorably report his nomination to the full Senate failing. The committee then voted 13-1 to report his nomination to the full Senate without recommendation, according to the CRS.  

The committee will vote on Jackson’s nomination on April 4. That would put the Senate on track to confirm Jackson to the Supreme Court by the end of the week. 

Asked about Jackson getting at least one GOP vote, Thune said that there was the potential that she could get “a few” and that no one was locked in yet.  

Jackson previously got three Republican votes for her circuit court nomination in 2021: Graham, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is up for reelection in November and facing a Trump-backed challenger.

Graham is widely viewed as a “no” vote. It would be a shift for Graham, who backed both of former President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees and all of former President Trump’s.  

Graham said, with a laugh, that he wasn’t an official no vote yet but went on a long gaggle with reporters about why he has concerns about Jackson.  

“I don’t believe she has sympathy for child pornographers. I don’t believe … any rational person does. I do believe her sentencing practices undercut deterrence,” Graham said.

Collins, meanwhile, said that she was going to dig in deeper into the hearings but that she was asking the White House for “clarifications.”

“I’ve started, but there’s a lot to do. Over the weekend I’ll be reading the excerpts. I’ve asked for some clarifications from the White House and some additional materials,” she said, asked if she had caught up on the hearings. 

Other GOP senators to watch include Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), who pushed back against attacks from some of his Republican colleagues this week and has said that he’s open to voting for her. But Romney also voted against her nomination last year and has raised concerns about her judicial philosophy.  

There are also retiring GOP senators who also haven’t said how they will vote.

One of them is Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who said he thought the hearing had been “helpful” and that he was focused on Jackson’s judicial philosophy and record. Portman hasn’t said how he will vote, but he voted against Jackson’s nomination last year and said that he still has some of the same concerns.  

“I’m concerned, as you can imagine, about the court packing issue,” Portman told The Hill, referring to calls from some progressive activists to increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court. “I don’t know why she can’t answer it.”  

Tags Amy Coney Barrett Barack Obama Biden Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas Dick Durbin Donald Trump doug jones John Cornyn John Thune Ketanji Brown Jackson Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Rob Portman Supreme Court Susan Collins Thom Tillis

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