Appointment of first black woman to US supreme court moves step closer

Final vote on confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson expected later this week

The appointment of the first black woman as a member of the supreme court of the United States has taken a step closer.

On Monday the Senate judiciary committee tied 11-11 following a vote on the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the court.

However, under senate rules her nomination is now set to advance to a full hearing of all senators. A final vote in the senate is now expected to take place on Thursday or Friday.

The confirmation of Ms Jackson to the supreme court would be significant achievement in the presidency of Joe Biden. As a candidate for the White House he promised to appoint the first black woman to the supreme court.


However, the nomination of Ms Jackson looks set to be opposed by most Republican senators.

Three Republicans have so far declared they will support Ms Jackson in the final vote on confirmation: Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Senator Mitt Romney of Utah.

Democrats in the Senate praised the judge’s qualifications and record while hailing the history-making aspect of her nomination. Republicans often pursued hostile lines of questioning, tried to portray her as liberal activist and suggested that she was soft on crime.

‘Historic moment’

The chairman of the judiciary committee senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, on Monday described its vote as a "historic moment".

He praised Ms Jackson’s “impeccable qualifications” and said she would bring “the highest level of skill, integrity, civility and grace” to the court.

He criticised what he called baseless attacks by some Republicans.

“They repeatedly interrupted and badgered Judge Jackson and accused her of vile things in front of her parents, her husband and her children. There was table-pounding – some literal – from a few of my colleagues. They repeated discredited claims about Judge Jackson’s character,” he said.

Several Republican senators accused her of being lenient on child pornography offenders during her time as a federal trial court judge.

Judge Jackson defended her record during the confirmatory process, saying she did her “duty to hold the defendants accountable”.

Sentencing experts maintained the sentences she imposed were within the mainstream among federal judges, while American Bar Association witnesses rejected claims that the judge was "soft on crime".The committee's top Republican senator Chuck Grassley described Ms Jackson as "very personable and engaging".

“Having carefully studied her record, unfortunately, I think she and I have fundamentally different views on the roles of judges and the role that they should play in our system of government. Because of those disagreements I cannot support her nomination.”

Arkansas Republican senator Tom Cotton maintained Judge Jackson "habitually sympathises with criminals over victims" and acted as "more of a defence attorney for criminals from the bench than a judge".

If confirmed Ms Jackson, who is 51, would be the sixth female justice in the supreme court's history as well as, the third African American and the first to have once been a federal public defender. She would succeed the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, for whom she once worked as a law clerk.

Her appointment would not change the balance on the court which has a strong conservative majority at present.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent