WASHINGTON – Republican Sen. Susan Collins had words of praise for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson after meeting with her for more than an hour and a half at the Capitol on Tuesday, raising Democrats' hopes that she could be a GOP vote in favor of her confirmation.
Collins, a moderate from Maine, said afterward that her discussion with the judge was productive and that her credentials are impressive. She said that Jackson, an appeals court judge who would be the first Black woman on the high court, “explained in great depth” the process she uses when making decisions.
“She takes a very thorough, careful approach in applying the law to the facts of the case, and that is what I want to see in a judge,” Collins said. She said she would wait to make a final decision on whether to support Jackson after her confirmation hearings, which begin March 21.
The Maine senator is perhaps Democrats’ best hope of landing a Republican vote for Jackson's nomination, as Supreme Court confirmations have become sharply partisan affairs in recent years. President Joe Biden and Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who is guiding the vetting process for Jackson, have both said they want to get back to the days when Supreme Court confirmations were overwhelmingly bipartisan. Retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, whom Jackson would replace, was confirmed with 87 votes in 1994.
Both Biden and Durbin have made Collins' vote, in particular, a priority. Durbin said he called her within hours of learning that Breyer would retire; Biden has called her personally three times, according to her office. She said after the meeting with Jackson that she has “confidence” in Durbin's ability to lead the hearings.
Collins has only voted against one Supreme Court nominee since was elected in 1996 — Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whom Trump nominated after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in September 2020. Collins voted against Barrett because of the accelerated six-week timeline that saw her confirmed just days before the presidential election.
While Democrats are using the rapid timeline for Barrett as a model for Jackson, Collins says the circumstances are different. For one, the vacancy is not being filled immediately before a election. She has also noted that Jackson has been confirmed by the Senate several times before, for two federal judge positions and for the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where she served under former President Barack Obama.
Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were the only three Republican senators to vote to confirm Jackson to the appeals court last year. Murkowski said in a statement last week that her previous vote did not mean she would be supportive this time, and Graham has signaled he won't vote for Jackson after he pushed Biden to pick a different candidate from his home state, federal Judge J. Michelle Childs.
Other Republicans are unlikely to vote for Jackson. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who met with the nominee last week, afterward questioned her support from liberal advocacy groups.
“She’s clearly a sharp lawyer with an impressive resume, but when it comes to the Supreme Court, a core qualification is judicial philosophy,” McConnell said.
Jackson is meeting with senators one-on-one this week, a ritual for nominees, as the Judiciary committee prepares for hearings and as the White House makes the case for her confirmation. On Tuesday, Jackson also met with Democratic Sens. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Cory Booker of New Jersey. She also met with Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. All but Scott sit on the Judiciary panel.
Hirono said she talked to Jackson about comments by Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican, that he viewed President Joe Biden’s pledge to nominate a Black woman to the court as “affirmative action.” Hirono said she told Jackson that she found that insulting and that she believes that phrase is used as “code for minority nominees” and questions about competence.
Hirono noted that Jackson excelled at Harvard Law School and is highly qualified for the position. She asked that “those who use those terms stop using them.”
Hirono said Jackson told her one of her strengths would be listening to the other justices on the court, which has been increasingly partisan in recent years.
“She is someone who wants to reach out to the other justices and be as persuasive as she can,” Hirono said.