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Republican support of Biden Supreme Court nominee uncertain

Democrats control the Senate majority and don’t necessarily need Republican support to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is a U.S. Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, poses for a portrait, Friday, Feb., 18, 2022, in her office conference room at the court in Washington. President Joe Biden on Friday nominated federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman selected to serve on a court that once declared her race unworthy of citizenship and endorsed segregation.  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is a U.S. Circuit Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, poses for a portrait, Friday, Feb., 18, 2022, in her office conference room at the court in Washington. President Joe Biden on Friday nominated federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman selected to serve on a court that once declared her race unworthy of citizenship and endorsed segregation. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) [ JACQUELYN MARTIN | AP ]
Published Feb. 26

WASHINGTON — The initial reactions to Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination show that she might yet earn Republican support during her confirmation process.

But any GOP votes are likely to be few and far between.

President Joe Biden on Friday selected the Miami Palmetto High School graduate to join the nation’s highest court, where, if confirmed, she would be the first Black woman to ever serve.

Brown Jackson, a 51-year-old federal appeals court judge, beat out Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court, and Michelle Childs, a U.S. District Court judge in South Carolina, for the nomination to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.

Related: 5 things to know about Miami's Ketanji Brown Jackson, Supreme Court nominee

But even before Biden formally announced his pick at the White House on Friday afternoon, Brown Jackson’s nomination was receiving a split reaction from GOP senators who, on the surface at least, once seemed like possible supporters.

And it signaled that the president’s first nominee to the Supreme Court is likely to face the same intensely partisan confirmation process that has become common in Washington — even if Democrats remain confident she’ll be confirmed.

Related: CPAC speakers criticize Biden over pick of Brown Jackson for Supreme Court

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of three Republicans to back Brown Jackson’s ascension to the appeals court last year, tweeted that her nomination to the Supreme Court “means the radical Left has won President Biden over yet again.”

“I expect a respectful but interesting hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Graham added. “The Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court continues to run unabated.”

Graham had been a vocal proponent of Childs, arguing that her atypical background — she went to neither Harvard’s nor Yale’s law school — made her a common-sense pick.

Brown Jackson is a graduate of Harvard’s law school.

Two of the other Republican senators who voted for Brown Jackson last year, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, each indicated a greater openness to Brown Jackson but stopped short of outright supporting her.

Collins said she would vet Brown Jackson’s background but hailed her “impressive academic and legal credentials.”

Murkowski, for her part, vowed that her prior support for Brown Jackson did not guarantee her backing now.

“I’ve been clear that previously voting to confirm an individual to a lower court does not signal how I will vote for a Supreme Court justice,” the Alaska senator said in a statement. “I am committed to doing my due diligence before making a final decision on this nominee. Being confirmed to the Supreme Court — the nation’s highest tribunal, and a lifetime appointment — is an incredibly high bar to achieve.”

Democrats, who control the Senate majority, don’t necessarily need Republican support to confirm Brown Jackson. But even one defection from their ranks — the party and its allies hold just 50 seats — could endanger Brown Jackson’s nomination.

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Related: What's next in the process for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson?

Kyrsten Sinema, a Democratic senator from Arizona whose more moderate policy positions have infuriated many members of her party, hailed Brown Jackson’s nomination as a “historic milestone for our country.”

Joe Manchin, whose continued opposition to Biden’s social spending bill has thwarted a key piece of the president’s agenda, was more reticent, saying only that he looked forward to meeting the judge.

“Just as I have done with previous Supreme Court nominees, I will evaluate Judge Jackson’s record, legal qualifications and judicial philosophy to serve on the highest court in the land,” Manchin said in a statement.

Most Democrats, however, offered unequivocal support for Biden’s nominee.

“Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has demonstrated a commitment to freedom, equality, and the rule of law throughout her career,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Decades ago, most Supreme Court nominees would receive broad bipartisan support regardless of which party’s president held the White House.

But amid an across-the-board rise in political polarization across the country, fights over new justices have become pitched ideological battles, drawing intense scrutiny and only rare shows of bipartisan comity.

None of the three Supreme Court justices appointed by former President Donald Trump, for instance, received more than three Democratic votes of support. His last nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, received no Democratic support, winning confirmation with GOP votes alone.

Many Republican senators, including those from Florida, indicated that while they haven’t yet made up their minds, they’re disinclined to back a judge they consider liberal.

“The issue for me will be, is this person going to be a judge who wants to change the law or interpret the law?” said GOP Sen. Rick Scott, speaking Friday at a roundtable discussion in Miami. “When I interviewed judges to appoint them in Florida that was the whole issue. Are they going to do their job? They’re not the legislative branch, they’re the judiciary, and their job is to interpret the law and that’s it.”

Scott is a former two-term Florida governor who was a health care executive before running for office.

Sen. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, issued a statement criticizing Biden for, in the senator’s view, treating the courts as a legislative branch. “I will not support any nominee that believes it is appropriate for judges to craft new policies and create rights instead of interpreting and defending the Constitution as written,” Rubio said.

Rubio, like Brown Jackson, is a product of Miami-Dade County Public Schools and a lawyer.

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