The Senate voted on Thursday to move ahead with a confirmation vote for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court, bringing her a step closer to becoming the first Black woman to be elevated to the pinnacle of the judicial branch.
The vote was 53 to 47 to limit debate on Judge Jackson’s nomination, with three Republicans joining all Democrats in the evenly divided Senate to push forward with her essentially assured confirmation. The judge’s supporters have hailed her coming elevation as a long overdue milestone to bring new diversity and life experience to the court.
The final vote was expected later Thursday to confirm Judge Jackson, who would then be in line to replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer when he retires at the end of the court’s session this summer.
Three Republicans — Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah — crossed party lines on the test vote. They were expected to do the same to confirm Judge Jackson later in the day, lending a modicum of bipartisanship to an otherwise bitterly partisan process.
The final debate came after a contentious confirmation battle in which conservative Republicans worked to derail renomination and sully her record with misleading claims, painting Judge Jackson as a liberal extremist who has coddled criminals, particularly child sexual abuse defendants. Dismissing those portrayals as distorted and offensive, her backers emphasized her deep qualifications and experience in the law, and characterized her impending confirmation as a triumph — one where a representative of a group often pushed into the background instead moved to the forefront.
“This is really, in my view, a moment to celebrate,” said Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, urging the judge’s confirmation and lamenting that it would not be unanimous. “She is an inspiration to millions and millions of Americans.”
Judge Jackson’s coming confirmation will be a major achievement for Mr. Biden, who promised at a low point in his 2020 primary campaign that he would appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court at his first opportunity. As a former public defender, Judge Jackson is the leading example of the emphasis the administration has put on expanding not only the personal diversity of the courts, but the professional as well. She will be the first-ever public defender to become a high court justice.
Faced with a historic pick who would not change the ideological divide of the court, top Senate Republicans had initially promised a respectful review of her record to show they could scrutinize a judicial nominee without personal attacks. Few questioned her qualifications, and Judge Jackson had been reviewed and approved by the Judiciary Committee three times previously, the latest being less than a year ago for a seat on the prestigious US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
But as her hearing approached and Republicans met personally with Judge Jackson in courtesy interviews, their tone sharpened and they began making harsh criticism of her record as a leader of the US Sentencing Commission and a federal district judge in Washington for almost nine years.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, took strong issue with her refusal to take a position on proposals to add seats to the high court — a priority of progressive groups that were enthusiastic backers of Judge Jackson.
Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican with presidential ambitions, claimed that a review of her sentencing record in child sex abuse cases showed a pattern of handing down penalties lighter than recommended by prosecutors. Republicans also faulted her for representing terror detainees at the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as an appointed public defender and signing court papers that accused President George W. Bush of committing war crimes when the detainees were tortured.
Republicans who engaged in combative questioning of the judge during her two days before the Judiciary Committee last month escalated their attacks this week as the confirmation vote approached.
“Judge Jackson may be a fine woman, but she is a dangerous judge,” Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas and another potential presidential aspirant, said in a floor speech, calling her a far-left activist.
In one particularly inflammatory attack, Mr. Cotton, referring to Judge Jackson’s work for the terror detainees, noted that the legendary justice Robert H. Jackson took a leave from the Supreme Court in 1945 to serve as chief prosecutor of Nazi war criminals.
“You know, the last Judge Jackson left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremberg and prosecute the case against the Nazis,” Mr. Cotton said. “This Judge Jackson might have gone there to defend them.”