Murkowski breaks GOP ranks to confirm Jackson as first Black woman to Supreme Court

a courthouse
U.S. Supreme Court (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

The U.S. Senate on Thursday voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to sit on the nation’s highest court.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was one of three Republicans to break party lines and confirm Jackson in the 53-47 vote. 

“Today’s vote, the confirmation of Judge Jackson, is one that will help to ensure that the face of the United States Supreme Court is more representative of the American people,” Murkowski said in a Capitol hallway Thursday, as senators streamed back to their offices.

Jackson is well qualified and proved during her confirmation hearing that she has the appropriate temperament, Murkowski said.

“Think about the strength under fire that we saw with this nominee,” Murkowski said, “You saw what I would call grace under pressure.”

Murkowski said she reviewed Jackson’s decisions and found her to be unbiased and willing to decide cases based on the law and the facts.

“You saw instances where she ruled for the administration and against the administration,” Murkowski said. “She ruled for environmental groups and against environmental groups. She ruled for labor and against labor.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan, like most Republicans, voted against confirmation. He was on the phone as he walked through the corridors after the vote and shook off a reporter’s approach.

Later, his office issued a press release saying Jackson lacked “a coherent approach to constitutional and statutory interpretation” and refused to state a judicial philosophy. He also took issue with several of her opinions.

But Sullivan said he found Jackson to be “engaging and extremely intelligent.”

“Her personal and professional accomplishments are very impressive and inspiring, and the historic nature of her nomination and confirmation is important to our nation,” his press release says. “While I voted against her confirmation for the reasons stated above, I congratulate Judge Jackson on this achievement.”

Two dozen House members from the Congressional Black Caucus crowded the back of the Senate Chamber for the historic vote. Some members and staffers dabbed their eyes. Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman and person of color to hold the second highest office in government, presided. Her husband watched from the Senate gallery.

Reverence for the moment was not universal. The vote was held open for more than 25 minutes, waiting for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to appear. When he did, he was casually dressed. To avoid violating the dress code for the Senate floor, he poked his head in from the cloakroom to vote. 

Jackson will be sworn in this summer, after Justice Stephen Breyer retires.

RELATED, NPR: The Senate confirms Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.

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