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Senate confirms Ketanji Brown Jackson to be judge on powerful appeals court

Jackson is widely seen in Democratic circles as a potential Supreme Court justice.
Image:Ketanji Brown Jackson during hearing on Capitol Hill on April 28, 2021.
Ketanji Brown Jackson at a hearing on Capitol Hill on April 28.Tom Williams / Pool via Reuters file

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Monday to confirm President Joe Biden's nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The vote was 53-44.

Jackson, 50, who was educated at Harvard, has served on the U.S. District Court in Washington since 2013, having been appointed by then-President Barack Obama. She will fill the seat of Merrick Garland, who became Biden's attorney general in March.

Courts-focused Democrats see Jackson as being on the shortlist, if not a front-runner, for a Supreme Court vacancy should one open up during the Biden administration. During his presidential campaign, Biden promised to put the first Black woman on the high court. For many liberals, Brown hits the sweet spot given her age, her background as a public defender and a judicial record they can get behind.

Biden's White House has told Democratic senators it wants more public defenders and civil rights lawyers on the courts — and by implication fewer prosecutors and corporate lawyers.

The courts-focused liberal group Demand Justice has elevated Jackson in a recent ad campaign to build support for her among Black audiences.

"Judge Jackson's confirmation will mark the beginning of a new era for a court system that Trump and McConnell have stacked in favor of the rich and powerful," said Christopher Kang, the chief counsel for Demand Justice. "Judge Jackson's experience as a public defender makes her a model for the type of judge President Biden and Senate Democrats should continue to prioritize."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said the Senate intends to confirm many of Biden's nominees to "restore the balance" in the courts after former President Donald Trump and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stocked the bench with young conservatives.

The D.C. circuit court, which regularly tackles important cases, has been a steppingstone to the Supreme Court for many judges, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.