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Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III says he’ll back Jackson for Supreme Court

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and observers standing at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson has won the support of Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), he announced Friday. With the key centrist’s backing, her confirmation is all but ensured.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
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Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III announced Friday that he plans to vote for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Supreme Court, likely ensuring the confirmation of President Biden’s nominee.

Manchin (D-W.Va.) was a key vote to watch because he has bucked his party on some of its top domestic priorities. But Manchin has backed all of Biden’s judicial nominees so far, and said he would continue to do so in the case of Jackson, who is expected to become the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

“I am confident Judge Jackson is supremely qualified and has the disposition necessary to serve as our nation’s next Supreme Court Justice,” Manchin said in a statement.

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He cited a variety of factors that influenced his decision, such as Jackson going from public schools to graduate with honors from Harvard and its law school. He noted she had also clerked for three federal judges, spent time in private practice and served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. He then made a home-state pitch.

“Judge Jackson and her family spend a great deal of time in West Virginia and her deep love of our state and commitment to public service were abundantly clear,” he said.

Manchin’s announcement indicates that Jackson will have the support of all 50 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus. That would guarantee the judge’s confirmation even if all 50 Republican senators vote against her, as Vice President Kamala Harris could break a tie.

Even as the path clears for Jackson to join the court, Democratic hopes of securing significant Republican support for her nomination appear to be fading.

On Thursday, just hours after the hearings came to a close, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced he will vote against confirming Jackson. He said in a Senate floor speech that he “cannot and will not” support her for a lifetime appointment.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he “cannot and will not” support confirming Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

March 24, 2022

McConnell (R-Ky.) slammed the liberal groups that have supported the judge, and he criticized her for refusing to take a position on increasing the size of the nine-member court, even though that decision would be up to Congress and the president. Some advocacy groups have pushed for adding more justices to the court after three of former President Trump‘s nominees were confirmed, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority.

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The minority leader also cited concerns about the sentences Jackson handed down in some criminal cases — a subject that dominated much of the four days of hearings in a coordinated GOP effort to portray her as soft on crime.

McConnell’s position was expected and does not affect Jackson’s trajectory to be confirmed by mid-April. But his declaration could prompt many of his fellow Republicans to follow suit, thwarting Biden’s efforts to bring back the overwhelmingly bipartisan votes that were commonplace for Supreme Court nominees when he first came to the Senate nearly five decades ago.

Ketanji Brown Jackson wrapped up her testimony and questioning by senators on the third day of her confirmation hearing.

March 23, 2022

“I think whomever I pick will get a vote from the Republican side,” Biden said after Justice Stephen G. Breyer announced he would step down from the court this summer. As the president started his search for a replacement, he made a point of inviting Republican senators to the White House to hear their advice.

While many GOP senators have praised Jackson’s vast experience and qualifications, it was clear at the hearings that Biden’s outreach had little effect.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee interrogated Jackson about her nine-year record as a federal judge, frequently interrupting her answers. Jackson pushed back aggressively on Republicans who said she had gone too easy on sex offenders.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she said, explaining her sentencing process in detail.

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President Biden’s nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, speaks on the first day of her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

March 21, 2022

The focus on crime dovetails with an emerging GOP theme for this year’s midterm elections and is likely to be decisive for many Republican senators. Others have brought up separate reasons to vote against Jackson — including her judicial philosophy and her support from liberal groups.

One or more Republicans might still cast a vote for Jackson’s confirmation, but the contentious nature of the four-day hearings laid bare a familiar partisan dynamic from years of pitched fighting over judicial nominations.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who has been privately lobbying GOP colleagues to support Jackson, said after McConnell’s announcement that it will be “sad for our country and sad as a commentary on where the parties are today” if her historic nomination is approved on a strictly partisan vote.

“The Republicans are testing their messages for the November election,” Durbin said. But he noted he was “still hoping that several Republicans — I hope many more” would vote for her.

As talk turned to the coming vote on Jackson, the Judiciary Committee held its final day of Senate confirmation hearings Thursday with a top lawyers group, which said its review found Jackson has a “sterling” reputation and “exceptional” competence, and is well-qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.

“Outstanding, excellent, superior, superb,” testified Ann Claire Williams, chair of the American Bar Assn. committee that makes recommendations on federal judges. “Those are the comments from virtually everyone we interviewed.”

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“The question we kept asking ourselves,” Williams said of the group — which had asked over 250 judges and lawyers about Jackson — was “how does one human being do so much so extraordinary well?”

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen G.

March 23, 2022

If confirmed, Jackson will be the third Black justice, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and the sixth woman on the bench. She would also be the first former federal public defender on the court, and the first justice with experience representing indigent criminal defendants since Marshall. Her confirmation would not alter the current 6-3 conservative majority on the court.

Durbin noted at Thursday’s hearing that some Republican senators had argued that Jackson was out of the mainstream on sentencing, and he asked the Bar Assn. whether such a concern would have surfaced in their interviews with judges and lawyers who had worked with her.

“It never came up in any of these interviews,” Williams said.

During questioning Tuesday and Wednesday, GOP senators aggressively queried Jackson on the sentences she handed down to child pornography offenders in her nine years as a federal judge, her legal advocacy on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees suspected of terrorism, her thoughts on critical race theory and even her religious views.

Hours of questioning were spent on the specifics of the child pornography cases, with the discussion led by several GOP senators who are eyeing the presidency.

Jackson said she based her sentences on many factors, not just federal guidelines. Sentencing is not a “numbers game,” she said, noting that there are no mandatory sentences for sex offenders and that there had been significant debate on the subject. Democratic senators cited outside experts who said her sentences were within the norm.

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Some of those cases gave her nightmares, Jackson said, calling them “among the worst” she had seen.

Republicans’ criticism was countered by Democrats’ effusive praise and reflections on the historic nature of her nomination. Perhaps the most riveting comments came from New Jersey’s Sen. Cory Booker, who used his time Wednesday not to ask questions, but to speak tearfully, drawing tears from Jackson as well.

Booker, who is Black, told her he saw “my ancestors and yours” when looking at Jackson.

“I know what it’s taken for you to sit here in this seat,” Booker said. “You have earned this spot.”

Associated Press writers Mark Sherman, Jessica Gresko, Lisa Mascaro and Colleen Long in Washington and Aaron Morrison in New York contributed to this report.

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