It’s a moment 46 days – and over 46 years – in the making.
President Joe Biden celebrates the confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court on Friday, marking the pinnacle of his legal career and completing his political history.
As longtime chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden was at the forefront of some of the most contentious confirmation battles in court history, as well as hearings for Justice Stephen Breyer, whose retirement this summer opens the way to Jackson to join The Bench.
“This is an extremely historic day in the White House and in the country, and it is the fulfillment of a promise the President made to the country,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. . She added that Biden’s time on the Judiciary Committee “was instrumental to him and gave him historically exceptional preparation” to put a judge on the court.
In nominating Jackson, Biden delivered on his campaign promise to select the first black woman to serve on a court composed entirely of white men for nearly two centuries that declared her race unworthy of citizenship and endorsed American segregation.
He has also chosen a barrister who will be the first former High Court public defender – with the elite legal training of other judges too. She graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law School and has held top internships, including for Breyer himself.
Jackson’s arrival on the bench won’t upset the current ideological balance of 6-3 in favor of the conservatives, but it does have political and historical resonance. Biden named her on the second anniversary of his promise before the South Carolina presidential primary to select a black woman for the court. The move helped resuscitate his turbulent campaign and preserved his path to the White House.
“We have taken another step to have our highest court reflect America’s diversity,” Biden said in a tweet Thursday after posing for a selfie with the awaiting judge. “She will be incredible justice, and I was honored to share this moment with her.”
He was due to celebrate the confirmation with her Friday on the South Lawn of the White House. Jackson’s family, all current and former judges, Biden’s cabinet, senators who supported his nomination, Democratic leaders and their allies were invited.
However, the event comes amid a COVID-19 outbreak among Washington’s political class that has sidelined members of Biden’s administration and lawmakers, including Maine Senator Susan Collins and the Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock, who tested positive for the virus just hours after voting for Brown. confirmation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was on the guest list, tested positive for the virus on Thursday.
PSAKI on Thursday raised concerns that the White House event could be a “superspreader” for the virus, such as President Donald Trump’s Rose Garden ceremony announcing the nomination of current Justice Amy Coney Barrett. PSAKI pointed out that the risks from the virus are now much lower thanks to vaccinations and treatments.
“At that time vaccines weren’t available, people weren’t vaccinated, that definitely puts us in a different space,” Psaki said.
While not all attendees will be newly tested for the virus, PSAki said those close to Biden will be. Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to attend and deliver remarks, although she was identified Wednesday as a close contact of a staff member who tested positive. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, she had to wear a mask around other people.
Jackson had joined Biden at the White House to watch the Senate vote unfold on television, the two holding hands in the Roosevelt Room as his confirmation became a reality.
“History does not happen by accident – it is made,” said White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain. He took note on MSNBC of the vote on Brown’s nomination chaired in the Senate by Harris, the first black vice president, also selected. by Biden.
Throughout his 50 years in Washington, Biden has been instrumental in shaping the court, both inside and outside the Senate. But it was his first opportunity to make his own selection.
Biden may not get another chance. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a Thursday interview with Axios, declined to commit to holding confirmation hearings for a future High Court nominee Biden if the GOP regains control of the Senate in 2023.
Biden participated in confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981 and Antonin Scalia in 1986, both nominated by President Ronald Reagan. He also participated in the 1986 hearing to elevate Judge William Rehnquist to the position of Chief Justice of the United States.
As committee chairman, he presided over the hearings of failed nominee Robert Bork, then the successful confirmations of Anthony M. Kennedy, David Souter and Clarence Thomas – the last dominated by allegations of sexual harassment against Thomas by the professor of right Anita Hill – as well as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breyer.
He was on the committee in 2005 but was no longer its chairman when current Chief Justice John Roberts was confirmed, and in 2006 when Samuel Alito became a judge.
As vice president, Biden helped advise President Barack Obama on his three Supreme Court choices: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who were confirmed, and current Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose nomination was upheld. blocked by the GOP ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Jackson will not take office immediately. Breyer is due to step down after the end of the court’s current term, which is usually late June or early July. Only then will she take the oath to become an associate judge. A White House official said Jackson will remain on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals until then, but will continue to recuse himself from cases.
AP writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.