It’s been pretty clear since Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court—or, at least, since Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, said that he’d support her—that she would scrape through to confirmation. The Democrats control the Senate, which is split fifty-fifty, thanks only to Vice-President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote; since a rules change engineered by then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in 2017, it takes only a simple majority to confirm a Justice, rather than a filibuster-breaking sixty votes. (McConnell’s immediate goal was to push Neil Gorsuch through, after smothering Merrick Garland’s nomination.) The two big questions regarding Jackson’s confirmation were how shamefully Republicans would conduct themselves in her Judiciary Committee hearings, and how many Republicans—if any—would vote for a highly qualified, well-respected jurist who, among other things, would be the first Black woman to sit on the Court since the nation’s founding.
As of Monday, the preliminary answers are very shamefully, and three: Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, who announced her intention to vote for Jackson last week, and Senators Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Mitt Romney, of Utah, who waited to do so until Monday, when the Judiciary Committee wrapped up its work. The committee did so in the manner to which watchers of the hearings have become accustomed, with a blast of bitter fantasies from the G.O.P. side about Jackson being a stealth agent of the radical left intent on coddling child pornographers and terrorists. (On Monday, Senator Cory Booker, of New Jersey, who has been relentless in his cheer, compared the spectacle to the ritual “airing of grievances” on Festivus, the Seinfeldian holiday.) None of the three Republicans backing Jackson sit on the committee—which sent her nomination to the full Senate, after a split 11–11 party-line vote—but the statements that they put out about their votes give some sense of how its proceedings came across.
Collins, like Murkowski, had voted to confirm Jackson the last time that the judge was before the Senate, when she was named to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, just last year. She got a third vote then, too—not from Romney but from Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who this time is voting no, and whose questioning of her was particularly low-minded. Collins, who had met with Jackson before the most recent hearings, professed herself to have concerns afterward, and met with her again—the Washington Post reported that among the things she wanted to clear up was the complaint that Jackson had accused former President George W. Bush and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld of war crimes. Collins apparently accepted the explanation that, in a brief that Jackson filed while representing a Guantánamo Bay prisoner who allegedly had been tortured—something contrary to the laws of war—the two men were the nominal defendants, by virtue of their official positions. Perhaps Collins was truly alarmed about a wound to Bush and Rumsfeld; perhaps she was worried enough about the picture that voters in Maine might have of Jackson after the hearings to put on a show of double-checking her. In Collins’s statement about her vote, after noting Jackson’s “experience, qualifications, and integrity,” the senator said, “No matter where you fall on the ideological spectrum, anyone who has watched several of the last Supreme Court confirmation hearings would reach the conclusion that the process is broken.”
There might have been less suspense around Murkowski’s vote if not for one fact: she is up for reëlection this year and Donald Trump is out to get her. She voted to convict him in his second impeachment trial. (Collins did as well, as did Romney, who also voted to convict on one count in Trump’s first impeachment trial—but they are not facing voters this year.) Even after Collins announced how she would vote, Murkowski told reporters that she was undecided, and still getting “into my process.” She, too, spoke with Jackson, and in her statement said that they’d had “multiple conversations.” Murkowski also pointed to the support that Jackson has received from law-enforcement groups—a reminder of how off base the attacks on the judge have been—as well as to what the senator regarded as her satisfactory answers to questions on “landmark Alaska laws” and “Alaska Native issues.”
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Murkowski may also have noticed a Quinnipiac poll, released last week, in which fifty-two per cent of respondents disapproved of how Republicans handled the hearings, while only twenty-seven per cent approved. That number likely includes G.O.P. voters. (Biden’s approval rating, by way of comparison, is averaging about forty-one per cent.) The behavior of the committee Republicans may have been bad enough to give Murkowski and her two colleagues room to take a step toward sanity. (Sanity from the start would, of course, have been preferable.) She implicitly recognized the disgust at their process when she said that her vote “also rests on my rejection of the corrosive politicization of the review process for Supreme Court nominees, which, on both sides of the aisle, is growing worse and more detached from reality by the year.”
Romney also met with Jackson after the hearings. Even before then, he had been dismissive of the child-pornography-sentencing attacks, calling them “off course.” He had voted against her last year, but had indicated that the Supreme Court was a different kind of decision. One of the pieces of information that he had in front of him, as the Washington Post noted, was an endorsement from sixteen law professors at Brigham Young University, who observed that Jackson “understands and values the freedom of religion”—another reminder of how distorted the G.O.P. caricature of the judge has been. The statement that Romney put out on Monday was the shortest of the three. “I have concluded that she is a well-qualified jurist and a person of honor,” he said. “While I do not expect to agree with every decision she may make on the Court, I believe that she more than meets the standard of excellence and integrity.” The phrase “a person of honor” is striking; nothing quite like it appeared, for example, in Romney’s statement saying that he’d vote for Amy Coney Barrett, the other Supreme Court nominee during his Senate tenure. It is a reminder that it was Jackson’s honor, even more than her record, that Romney’s fellow-Republicans tried to attack and smear. And it was a reminder that they failed.