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SC News

Senators to watch as Supreme Court fight unfolds

Dick Durbin, Chuck Grassley
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
/
AP
FILE - Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined at right by Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., prepares for a meeting to advance President Joe Biden's nominees to the federal courts, at the Capitol in Washington, on Feb. 17, 2022. President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats say they are hoping for a bipartisan vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats say they are hoping for a bipartisan vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

That won't be easy, but some Republicans have expressed an openness to voting for Biden's nominee, who currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and would be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina voted last year to confirm Jackson for her current position.

As senators review Jackson's record in the coming days and weeks, some Republicans may drop hints about whether they are willing to vote for Jackson, who would replace liberal Justice Stephen Breyer. But senators in both parties often withhold their support until after they meet with the nominee and confirmation hearings are held.

Democrats will also keep an eye on their own moderate flank, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Neither has indicated, so far, that they would vote against Biden's choice, and they have voted for all his other nominees.

Senators to watch as the confirmation process begins:

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-MAINE

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin made one of his first calls to Collins after Justice Stephen Breyer announced in January that he will retire this summer. The Maine senator, who voted against Justice Amy Coney Barrett, former President Donald Trump's nominee for Supreme Court in 2020, is perhaps Democrats' best chance for a Republican crossover vote.

"I'm reaching out to the Republicans and saying the nominee will be available for you to get to know them," and answer any questions, Durbin said then of his conversation with Collins, who is a moderate. She responded that she appreciated the offer.

Collins has called for Democrats to take the process deliberatively and slowly as they have made clear they want to move swiftly. Asked about Jackson before she was nominated, Collins said she would "certainly give her every consideration" but she had not met her personally and would have to look at her more recent record. On Friday, Collins said she would conduct a "thorough vetting" and meet with the nominee in the coming weeks.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.

Graham pushed Biden to pick a South Carolinian — federal district court Judge J. Michelle Childs. While the White House said Childs was under consideration, the president eventually picked the more experienced Jackson instead.

Unlike almost all of his current colleagues, the mercurial Graham has long said the Senate should confirm a president's nominees, no matter the party. And along with Collins and Murkowski, he is one of the only Republicans to have voted for many of Biden's lower court picks. But he said earlier this month that if the nominee wasn't Childs, whom he considers more moderate than Jackson, his vote would be more "problematic."

Graham said he was also pushing Childs because she had not attended college or law school at Harvard or Yale, unlike Jackson and almost every justice on the court. "The Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court continues to run unabated," Graham said in a statement after Biden's announcement on Friday.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, R-ALASKA

Along with Collins, Murkowski is one of the most moderate Republican members of the Senate and has expressed concerns about whether the court could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a right to an abortion. But she is up for reelection this year in her conservative state, and she has signaled she may not be inclined to cross party lines.

In a statement Friday, she said she looks forward to meeting with Jackson but "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." She added that "being confirmed to the Supreme Court — the nation's highest tribunal, and a lifetime appointment — is an incredibly high bar to achieve."

In January, she told Alaska station KDLL that "there is a pretty tangible difference between being on a district court, a circuit court and the Supreme Court."

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, R-IOWA

Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, is a longtime member of the committee and oversaw the confirmation of two of Trump's three picks as the then-chairman. He will almost certainly vote against Jackson's nomination, but his role will nonetheless be important as Republicans strategize over how much to criticize her and whether to throw up procedural hurdles to slow the nomination.

Durbin has said he and Grassley are good friends and they have stayed in touch through the process. They visited the White House together earlier this month to discuss the pick with Biden, who served in the Senate with both of them.

In a statement Friday, Grassley congratulated Jackson and said he has "no intention of degrading the advice and consent role" of the Senate, referring to the bitter confirmation battles over Trump's three Supreme Court nominees. While some Democrats have speculated that Judiciary committee Republicans may boycott a committee vote, a move that could delay the confirmation, Grassley said he intends to "show up and do the job that Iowans pay me to do."

SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.

Like Grassley, McConnell is unlikely to vote for Jackson. But his comments on her nomination will signal to the rest of the conference how to proceed as they decide how aggressively to oppose it.

In a statement Friday, McConnell questioned Jackson's productivity on the appeals court and the support for her from some liberal advocacy groups. But he has also tried to dissuade his colleagues from bringing up her race after several of them criticized Biden for saying he would nominate a Black woman.

"Honestly, I did not think that was inappropriate," McConnell said earlier this week. He promised the nominee will be "respectfully vetted."

SEN. JOE MANCHIN, D-W.VA., and SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA, D-ARIZ.

Manchin and Sinema drew the ire of liberal groups, and many of their fellow Democrats, after they helped block a wide-ranging package of Biden's signature policy goals. But that opposition has not carried over to Biden's judicial nominees, as both senators have voted for every single one of them.

Neither has given any indication they will oppose his Supreme Court pick. Manchin said on a West Virginia radio show last month that "It would be the character of the person" that matters, even if the nominee is more liberal than he is. On Friday, Manchin said he will examine Jackson's legal qualifications and judicial philosophy and meet with her "before determining whether to provide my consent."

Sinema said in a statement that Jackson's nomination "represents a historic milestone for our country" and she will consider it based on whether she is "professionally qualified, believes in the role of an independent judiciary, and can be trusted to faithfully interpret and uphold the rule of law."