Despite President Joe Biden's hope his pick for the Supreme Court would garner bipartisan support, early reactions from Senate Republicans on Friday suggested his nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, is headed for an uphill confirmation battle as she starts making the rounds to meet key senators beginning next week.
Now that her nomination has been formalized, Jackson, a Harvard Law graduate who currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, will find her fate lies in the hands of an evenly divided Senate.
She'll need only 51 votes to be confirmed, which means Democrats could move her nomination without a single Republican supporting it. But that's not the way they hope it will go, especially because Jackson was confirmed to her current federal appeals court position with three Republican votes.
Jackson has issued very few rulings since senators last considered her nomination, but that didn't stop Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who supported Jackson's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court, from changing his tune.
"If media reports are accurate, and Judge Jackson has been chosen as the Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Breyer, it means the radical Left has won President Biden over yet again," Graham tweeted just moments after news of Jackson's nomination broke.
Graham has voted more consistently than most of his Republican colleagues to confirm Democrats' judicial nominees. But for the vacancy being left by retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, he favored a different Biden short-lister, Judge J. Michelle Childs of his home state of South Carolina.
Graham said he could have delivered bipartisan support for Childs, who he said he favored in part because she attended public universities rather than the private Ivy League schools Jackson did. But now, he says, he's been scorned.
"I expect a respectful but interesting hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee," Graham said. "The Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court continues to run unabated."
Childs was also championed by South Carolina Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, who helped Biden win a crucial primary in his state with Black voter support. Biden called Clyburn before announcing his selection, a source confirmed to ABC News.
In a statement following news Biden had selected Jackson instead of Childs, Clyburn expressed no anger. Instead, he celebrated Biden following through on his promise to nominate the first Black woman to the high court.
"This is a glass ceiling that took far too long to shatter, and I commend President Biden for taking a sledgehammer to it,” Clyburn said in a statement. "“Although not the finalist, Judge Childs’ inclusion among the three that were interviewed continues her record of remarkable contributions to making this country’s greatest accessible and affordable to all. And, she continues to make all South Carolinians proud.”
With Graham's vote now uncertain, all eyes are now on Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, seen as possible Democratic allies in a confirmation battle.
Both women voted to confirm Jackson's nomination to the federal appeals court last summer, and both have records of consistently supporting Biden nominees more regularly than other members of the GOP conference.
Collins was the only Republican to vote against Justice Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the court in 2020, citing concerns about proximity to the 2020 presidential election. She also backed both of former President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominees. And earlier this year, she signaled openness to working with Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin on Biden's nominee.
But Collins is making no commitments on Judge Jackson.
"Ketanji Brown Jackson is an experienced federal judge with impressive academic and legal credentials," Collins said in a statement Thursday. "I will conduct a thorough vetting of Judge Jackson’s nomination and look forward to her public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and to meeting with her in my office."
Murkowski, in a statement Thursday afternoon, said her vote to confirm Jackson to the D.C. Circuit court does not foreshadow how she'll vote on Jackson's SCOTUS appointment.
“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," Murkowski said. "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.”
It's possible other Republicans could also back the nomination. The White House reached out to some Republicans before announcing that Biden had selected Jackson as his nominee, including Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. In a statement Thursday, he noted the historic nature of her selection.
"Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is an experienced jurist, and I know her historic nomination will inspire many. I look forward to meeting in person with Judge Jackson, thoroughly reviewing her record and testimony, and evaluating her qualifications during this process," Romney said.
Still, the overwhelming tone from Republicans has been one of skepticism. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a Thursday statement, cast doubt on Jackson's recent judicial record.
"I voted against confirming Judge Jackson to her current position less than a year ago. 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," McConnell said. "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."
The first Republicans who will get to take a public swing at Jackson are those who serve on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold the public hearings on Jackson's nomination. The committee is home to several firebrand Republicans who have, on occasion, used the panel to engage in fiery exchanges with nominees.
"Ultimately I will be looking to see whether Judge Jackson will uphold the rule of law and call balls and strikes, or if she will legislate from the bench in pursuit of a specific agenda," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who sits on the committee, said of Jackson in a statement.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., during the last time Jackson appeared before the committee, questioned her about where she stood on religious liberty issues. In a Thursday statement, Hawley said he was "troubled by aspects of her record."
And Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., another Judiciary Committee member, said in a statement when he opposed Jackson's nomination last year he did so with "serious concerns she would legislate from the bench instead of following the Constitution and federal law as written."
"The fact that Judge Jackson was the strongly preferred nominee of far-left special interest groups is also a cause of concern," Tillis said.
Still, there's little Republicans can ultimately do to block Jackson's appointment to the court as long as Democrats remain united. Early speculation that Republicans could boycott a committee vote and deny Democrats the quorum necessary to move Brown's nomination out of the Judiciary Committee were put to rest by the top Republican on the panel, Chuck Grassley, in a Thursday statement.
"As ranking member, I have no intention of degrading the advice and consent role as Senate Democrats have in recent confirmations," Grassley said. "I intend to show up and do the job that Iowans pay me to do.”
It's not yet clear if every Democrat will support Jackson's nomination, but Democratic Senate leaders received the news warmly.
It's also unclear how quickly the Senate will move on Jackson's nomination, although Durbin said he'd like to try to get her confirmed by the Easter recess in early April.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised to move swiftly.
"Once the President sends Judge Jackson’s nomination to the Senate, Senate Democrats will work to ensure a fair, timely, and expeditious process – fair to the nominee, to the Senate, and to the American public," Schumer said in a statement Thursday. "Under Chairman Durbin’s leadership, Judge Jackson will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks. After the Judiciary Committee finishes their work I will ask the Senate to move immediately to confirm her to the Supreme Court."