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Texas’ Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz previously voted against confirming President Joe Biden’s first Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson when she was before the Senate last year for an appointment to a lower court.
Biden announced Jackson’s nomination to the high court Friday morning.
“She is one of our nation’s brightest legal minds and will be an exceptional Justice,” he said in his announcement. If confirmed, Jackson's nomination would be historic: She would be the first Black woman and sixth woman to sit on the highest bench in the country in its more than 200-year history.
Jackson currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, a position she was confirmed to in June with a 53-47 Senate vote in which Cruz and Cornyn joined all but three of their Republican colleagues in opposing.
Before her time on the appeals court, she served approximately eight years as a judge on the U.S. District Court in Washington. She also served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the body that develops sentencing policies for federal offenses — a position she was confirmed to in a 2010 vote in the upper chamber.
Cornyn and Cruz both sit on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, which will take the lead vetting Jackson’s nomination in Congress. Members of the committee will meet with the nominee individually before holding hearings and a vote to advance the nomination to the full Senate.
Democrats hold a slim 50-50 majority in the upper chamber, with Vice President Kamala Harris ready to cast a tie-breaking vote if necessary.
Cornyn said in a statement Friday morning that he looked forward to meeting Jackson and conducting a thorough review of her credentials.
“Ultimately, I will be looking to see whether Judge Jackson will uphold the rule of law and call balls and strikes, or if she will legislate from the bench in pursuit of a specific agenda,” Cornyn said.
Cornyn also said that Jackson “will be given the dignity and respect she deserves,” adding that the confirmation will be “starkly” different from the treatment of judicial nominees during the Trump administration.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Cruz said that while he voted against confirming Jackson to her current position, he will carefully consider her nomination to the Supreme Court.
"The people of Texas deserve a rigorous investigation of Judge Jackson’s nomination," Cruz said. "This is especially key in a time when too many parts of our executive and judicial branches are at risk of politicization, and when Americans face crises directly related to our legal system with unenforced federal laws at our border and in prosecutors’ offices across the country."
Jackson’s nomination follows up on a two-year-old promise Biden made during his presidential campaign that he would nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.
In her nomination hearing for her appeals court position before the Judiciary Committee last year, Cornyn asked Jackson about what role race played in the kind of judge that she had been and would be — a question she quickly pushed back on.
“I don’t think race plays a role in the kind of judge that I have been and that I would be,” Brown said. “I’m looking at the arguments, the facts, and the law. I’m methodically and intentionally setting aside personal views, any other inappropriate considerations. And I would think that race would be the kind of thing that would be inappropriate to inject in my evaluation of a case.”
Cruz, who was was a classmate with Jackson at Harvard Law School, questioned Jackson at her hearing about the definition of judicial activism and the notion of a “living Constitution” — the idea that the U.S. Constitution has meaning which changes and develops over time.
“I am aware that the Supreme Court — at least with respect to certain provisions of the Constitution that it has already interpreted — has looked at history and has focused on the original meaning of the text,” Brown said, nothing that she had not had the opportunity to do so when up for her spot on the appeals court.
Cruz, whose office did not immediately respond to request for comment, has previously called Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman “offensive” and insulting. Cornyn, in less fiery language than Cruz, said as the president was in the process of making his pick that he wished Biden expanded his candidate pool beyond Black women to also consider factors like background and diversity of experience.
Jackson’s undergraduate and law degrees are both from Harvard University. She previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, whose spot she would fill on the bench in wake of his retirement, and had a stint as a federal public defender.
The White House has sought out Republican support for the pick, as the path to get a person on the Supreme Court has become increasingly politicized within the past two presidential administrations. Justices have been confirmed to the high court in slim margins.
In the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency, he nominated Merrick Garland, who then sat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and is now U.S. attorney general, to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left after Justice Antonin Scalia died. But Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell prevented Garland’s nomination from coming up for a vote.
After Donald Trump’s election in 2016, the newly inaugurated president nominated Neil Gorsuch, who was eventually confirmed to the court in a 54-45 vote. In doing so, Senate Republicans changed a historic chamber rule that lowered the previously required 60 votes for high court picks down to a simple majority.
Two years later, Trump picked Brett Kavanaugh to fill the spot left by retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, but Kavanaugh’s confirmation quickly became a firestorm when he was accused of a sexual assault allegation from psychologist Christine Blasey Ford that he denied. He eventually was confirmed to the high court in a 50-48 vote.
During her appeals court confirmation, Cruz asked Jackson about whether she believes Kavanaugh assaulted Ford, given publicly available information. She responded: “It would be inappropriate for me to comment on this question.”
Then in 2020, following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the high court just over a month before the presidential election. Senate Republicans pushed through her confirmation in a 52-48 vote just 30 days after her nomination was announced and a week before the election.
Cornyn and Cruz joined the vast majority of their Republican colleagues in approving the three justices appointed under Trump, which now help makeup the court’s 6-3 superconservative majority. Jackson, in possibly replacing Breyer, would not change this ideological balance.