KEtanji Brown Jackson was confirmed by the US Senate on Thursday, becoming the first black female judge in the country’s history.
Jackson was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a vote of 53 to 47 with bipartisan support. Republican Senators Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined 50 Senate Democrats in supporting his confirmation. Jackson is poised to assume his position by retiring from Justice Stephen Breyer’s seat in the next term, which begins in October.
“Judge Jackson’s confirmation will be a smashing feat for America,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois.
Jackson’s landmark confirmation will not change the Supreme Court’s ideological makeup. She joins a bench with a 6-3 Conservative majority, the smallest Liberal minority in a generation. Jackson’s former colleagues and mentors told TIME that they expected her to strive for a majority with her colleagues whenever possible, seeking compromise and consensus of the minority position.
Read more: What Ketanji Brown Jackson could bring to the Supreme Court
Jackson’s bipartisan confirmation is a victory for President Joe Biden, after a contentious and at times inflammatory confirmation process. Jackson is the first Democrat to be appointed to the High Court in 13 years, and she brings professional experience otherwise lacking on the bench, including expertise in criminal justice and sentencing disparities. Jackson, most recently a DC Circuit Court judge, will be the first former public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.
The High Court could reshape major elements of American life in the coming months with rulings on abortion access, gun rights and religious freedom, and its reputation is at an inflection point crucial as it grapples with growing politicization. The court is facing growing calls for changes to its composition and operations, with progressives pushing to add seats to the bench or install judicial term limits. If any changes are made to the stable institution, Jackson will likely be there to see them. At 51, she is expected to hold her position for life for decades.
Bruising confirmation process yielded bipartisan support
The Democrats’ tight control of the Senate all but guaranteed that the Republicans could not block Jackson’s confirmation, and senators from both parties publicly acknowledged that she was qualified for the job. But her confirmation hearings were always heated — sometimes tinged with racial undertones — and the ugliness of the process helped convince at least two Republicans to vote for her.
Murkowski said Tuesday that her support for Jackson hinged not just on the justice’s qualifications, but also on “rejecting the corrosive politicization of the Supreme Court nominee review process,” which she said “is worsens and detaches from reality by the year.” Collins also commented on the “broken” Supreme Court nomination process by announcing that she would support Jackson, saying she had no doubts that she would disagree with all of the votes Jackson cast. “That alone, however, is not disqualifying,” Collins said. In her view, she continued, the role of the Senate is to examine a candidate’s experience, qualifications and integrity, not to determine how they will vote ideologically.
During the process, Republicans accused Jackson of being soft on crime and handing out light sentences to child porn offenders, which fact checkers refuted and the White House called a “QAnon flagging smear.” . The senators’ questions repeatedly focused on debates over the culture wars. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, asked her if “babies are racist” after she described an anti-racism book taught at a school she is affiliated with. Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, asked Jackson if she could define a “woman,” apparently referring to a transgender rights litigation that was working its way through the court system.
Supreme Court confirmations have become increasingly partisan in recent years. The last Democratic appointee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, was endorsed by the Senate 68-31, with nine Republicans backing her. Going back further, former judges Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were upheld 96-3 and 98-0, respectively. Still, with only three Republicans backing her, Jackson’s confirmation was more bipartisan than the previous two: Amy Coney Barrett got no Democratic votes and Brett Kavanaugh got one Democrat’s backing.
Partisanship in Congress did not seem to erode support for Jackson among the public. A March 30 poll from Marquette University School of Law found that 66% of adults said they supported Jackson’s nomination.
What to expect from Jackson
Jackson has earned a reputation as a meticulous judge who writes lengthy opinions and works closely with her colleagues. Former mentors predict she will strive to vote with the majority. But, given the current make-up of the court, she can more often than not end up dissenting.
Jackson will be in the ideological minority for the foreseeable future, and those who know her expect her to follow the model of Justice Breyer, for whom she once served as a clerk. While some judges try to shape ideology and shape legal schools of thought by writing scathing dissents, Breyer has tried to vote with the majority whenever possible to influence the language of opinions and the final outcome of cases. In 2020, he said, “A dissent is a failure.”
Kenneth Feinberg, a close friend of Breyer for whom the Jackson law firm worked from 2002 to 2004, says he thinks Jackson learned from Breyer that “getting five votes is better than writing one dissent.” . First Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya, for whom Jackson worked in 1997, also says he doesn’t believe Jackson has a “predilection for dissent.”
Jackson recognized the power of writing dissents when needed. During her confirmation hearing, Jackson said there have been many judges before her who have used the “dissent mechanism” to outline their opinions in ways that “become persuasive to others in the future.”
Jackson will join the most hobbled liberal minority in a generation, says NYU law professor Melissa Murray. The Supreme Court had a similar ideological balance during Reconstruction, and during that time minority justices such as John Marshall Harlan used their dissents to lay the groundwork for challenges to decisions they disagreed with for generations. later. “There’s something ironic that black women have finally reached what is the pinnacle of success in the legal field, but it comes at a time when their voices can be particularly muffled,” Murray says.
Murray predicts there could be an opportunity for Jackson to find consensus with fellow conservatives on criminal justice issues, where Justices Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch have already built unusual coalitions. Jackson’s colleagues can recognize his expertise and seek perspective when such questions come up before the bench.
Jackson’s historic tenure on the nation’s highest court will begin the next term, which will include back-to-back cases, including two higher education affirmative action challenges. While Jackson will recuse herself from the Harvard-centric case, while she sits on the school’s board of supervisors, she hasn’t said she would recuse herself from a challenge to University policy. North Carolina. This could be the first instance of many during her lifetime appointment in which she delves into some of the most critical issues in American society. And she will speak with a voice and perspective never before represented at the legendary institution.
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