The push to make Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson the first Black female justice in the Supreme Court’s 233-year history should be less contentious and speedier than past confirmation fights because President Biden’s nominee is replacing a liberal justice and is well-known to senators from a floor vote less than eight months ago, senior lawmakers said Sunday.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he expects the traditional questionnaire for nominees to be completed shortly.
Mr. Durbin said Judge Jackson will meet with senators and face hearings “at a practical time” but the process will be inherently faster because senators voted in June to put Judge Jackson on the prestigious U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
“The process is underway,” Mr. Durbin told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We know her record as of last year. We’re ready to go.”
He is pushing for Senate confirmation of Judge Jackson before the Easter recess in early April.
Mr. Durbin couldn’t guarantee unanimous support from Democrats in the evenly split chamber, but Mr. Biden’s allies want to pick up votes from Republicans who haven’t signaled opposition. They said a bipartisan vote would send a positive message to the country and that Judge Jackson is a deserving nominee.
“I think she’s going to defy some expectations,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, told “Fox News Sunday.”
Judge Jackson, 51, would replace liberal Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who is retiring. She worked as his law clerk decades ago.
“Justice Breyer, the members of the Senate will decide if I fill your seat. But please know that I could never fill your shoes,” Judge Jackson said after Mr. Biden presented her at a White House ceremony on Friday.
Before joining the D.C. Circuit, Judge Jackson spent eight years on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where she issued more than 500 opinions.
Judge Jackson credited God and her faith in her Friday speech.
“I must begin these very brief remarks by thanking God for delivering me to this point in my professional journey. My life has been blessed beyond measure,” she said. “I do know that one can only come this far by faith.”
The president, who had promised to nominate a Black woman, said diversity was important in his decision.
“For too long, our government, our courts haven’t looked like America,” Mr. Biden said. “I believe it is time we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation.”
The president said he wanted a nominee who understands that “the law must work for the American people.”
Judge Jackson said she was inspired to pursue a legal career after her father went to law school. She said he was her first professional role model.
Judge Jackson also honored the late Judge Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge.
“I can only hope that my life and career, my love of this country and the Constitution and my commitment to upholding the rule of law and the sacred principles upon which this great nation was founded will inspire future generations of Americans,” she said.
Mr. Durbin’s committee is expected to hold hearings for Judge Jackson in the coming weeks. Senators will quiz her over her rulings ahead of a confirmation vote.
Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, said he doesn’t expect the confirmation process to be as contentious as the one around Justice Brett Kavanaugh during the Trump administration, given the makeup of the Senate and the high court.
“As you know, she’ll be replacing another liberal on the court. And Democrats have 50 votes, and plus one with the vice president, they have the ability to confirm,” Mr. Portman told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “But I think the rest of us on the Republican side are going to be looking at her record, look at her qualifications. We don’t believe you ought to legislate from the bench. We think the Supreme Court focus ought to be on protecting our rights and following the Constitution, and that’s what we’ll be looking for.”
House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, said Sunday that he would like the Senate to confirm Judge Jackson on a bipartisan vote because it would signal that the U.S. is earnest about forming a more perfect union.
“This is beyond politics,” Mr. Clyburn told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “I would hope that all of my Republican friends look upon it that way.
“In the final analysis, let’s have a strong bipartisan support to demonstrate that both parties are still in pursuit of perfection,” he said.
Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican, said he is open to voting for Judge Jackson despite voting against her nomination to serve on the circuit court.
“Look, her nomination and her confirmation would or will be historic, and like anyone nominated by the president of the United States, she deserves a very careful look, a very deep dive,” Mr. Romney told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And I will provide fresh eyes to that evaluation and hope that I will be able to support her in the final analysis.”
Other Republicans have signaled that they will oppose Judge Jackson. They dubbed her the favored choice of “far left” and “dark money” groups.
Seemingly with an eye on her confirmation hearing, Judge Jackson took the unusual step Friday of acknowledging that one of her uncles, Thomas Brown Jr., had been sentenced to life imprisonment in Florida for a drug conviction under a “three strikes” law.
“You may have read that I have one uncle who got caught up in the drug trade and received a life sentence. That is true,” she said. “But law enforcement also runs in my family.”
She noted that her brother has served as a police officer in Baltimore and two other uncles worked in law enforcement. One became police chief in Miami.
As a lawyer, Judge Jackson helped bring the case of her imprisoned uncle to the attention of the Obama White House. President Obama commuted his sentence.
Mr. Biden touted Judge Jackson as a protector of freedom and democracy. He noted the backdrop of war in Ukraine, where he said freedom is under threat.
“Her opinions are always perfectly reasoned,” Mr. Biden said. “It doesn’t mean she puts her thumb on the scale one way or the other. She cares about making sure democracy works for the American people. She strives to be fair, to get it right.”
Judge Jackson has impressed liberals with her rulings in cases against former President Donald Trump. Conservatives have criticized what they say is a record of reaching beyond her authority as a judge.
She ruled against Mr. Trump’s attempt to conceal White House records concerning the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. She also sided with congressional Democrats in their attempt to get former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify in their impeachment inquiries against Mr. Trump.
In 2017, Judge Jackson sentenced the “pizzagate” shooter to four years in prison. The case involved a pizza parlor in the District of Columbia where a man from North Carolina opened fire. A false right-wing conspiracy theory circulating online claimed the restaurant was at the center of a child sex abuse ring involving influential Democrats.
Experts long viewed the Harvard Law School graduate as a front-runner for Mr. Biden’s high court pick even before Justice Breyer announced his plan to retire.
Mr. Clyburn said he is ready to look beyond the fact that Mr. Biden chose Judge Brown instead of his first choice, J. Michelle Childs, a U.S. district judge in South Carolina who is not a product of the Ivy League.
“We all have our personal preference. We all have our reasonable biases. But in the final analysis, I think this was a good choice,” Mr. Clyburn said.
Judge Jackson has a wide range of experience as a lawyer in private practice and as an assistant federal public defender.
She also served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Shortly after the president vowed to fill a vacancy on the high court with a Black woman, Mr. Biden elevated Judge Jackson from the district court to the circuit court. The D.C. appellate court is considered a steppingstone to the high court.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and Justice Clarence Thomas — a third of the current justices on the bench — sat on the D.C. Circuit before their nominations.
Judge Jackson was confirmed to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the district court and the circuit court with bipartisan support.
Democrats on Capitol Hill welcomed the nomination.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Judge Jackson will protect the rights of the “voiceless and vulnerable.”
“I commend President Biden on undertaking a thoughtful, deliberate selection process for the next Supreme Court Justice. Senate Democrats will work to ensure a fair, timely, and expeditious process — fair to the nominee, to the Senate, and to the American public,” Mr. Schumer said.
Senate Republicans said they will be ready for a fair confirmation process for Judge Jackson.
The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said he looks forward to meeting with Judge Jackson.
“As ranking member, I have no intention of degrading the advice and consent role as Senate Democrats have in recent confirmations,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, also said he wanted to avoid the types of controversial hearings in recent years when Democrats and liberal advocates protested the confirmations of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Justice Kavanaugh was accused — without proof — of sexual misconduct dating back decades. Democrats told the American people that Justice Barrett would take away their health insurance.
“Senate Republicans believe the court and the country deserve better than Senate Democrats’ routine of baseless smears and shameless distortions,” Mr. McConnell said.
He noted that he voted against Judge Jackson’s confirmation to the D.C. Circuit.
“Since then, I understand that she has published a total of two opinions, both in the last few weeks, and that one of her prior rulings was just reversed by a unanimous panel of her present colleagues on the D.C. Circuit. I also understand Judge Jackson was the favored choice of far-left dark-money groups that have spent years attacking the legitimacy and structure of the court itself,” he said.
One of Judge Jackson’s rulings while on the D.C. Circuit, American Federation of Government Employees v. Federal Labor Relations Authority, involved a 2020 rule that limited collective bargaining for government employees. She ruled for the union in that legal battle. Her other opinion, Wye Oak Technology v. Republic of Iraq, involved a defense contractor and procedural issues.
Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said the judge has been on the circuit court a short time and doesn’t have much experience working with other judges.
“I don’t know if she will be a bridge-builder,” he said.
He said a liberal justice should build coalitions with conservatives to “keep things moderate.”
“Jackson doesn’t have that kind of experience,” Mr. Blackman said.
Judge Jackson is married to a doctor whom she met while at Harvard. They have two children. She is a distant relative of former House Speaker Paul D. Ryan through marriage.
Mr. Obama tweeted that Judge Jackson “has already inspired young Black women like my daughters to set their sights higher, and her confirmation will help them believe they can be anything they want to be.”