‘A moment like this’: Senate history in Supreme Court vote

Apr 7, 2022, 12:36 AM | Updated: Apr 8, 2022, 9:04 am
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Tex., left, Rep. Joyce B...

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Tex., left, Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, center, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., right, speak to reporters outside the Senate chamber just after the vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, securing her place as the first Black woman on the high court, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, April 7, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Moments before the Senate began Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation vote to become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, the chamber filled with the swell of history.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus walked through the doors of the Senate to witness the moment. Black female lawmakers sat shoulder to shoulder along the back walls.

The visitor galleries above, largely closed these past two years, first from the COVID pandemic and then insurrection at the Capitol, filled with young people, including many young Black men and women, some congressional staffers, to watch.

Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who protected the chamber against an extremist mob on Jan. 6, 2021, ushered people into the gallery, guarding the members and their visitors once again.

“I’m here today to witness history,” freshman Rep. Marilyn Strickland, D-Wash., said in the halls. “It’s touching, it’s moving and I’m so proud.”

Vice President Kamala Harris, who presided over the session, called for the vote.

“The clerk will call the roll,” she said, beaming.

Senators remained seated, as is the tradition for momentous votes, and the roll was called one name at a time.

Despite the political divisions over President Joe Biden’s historic Supreme Court pick, the first Black woman in the court’s 233-year history, the last day of the process carried more celebration than tension, coming to a final vote not with a bitter public fight but a flourish.

The 53-47 tally was no cliffhanger. Democrats had the votes to confirm Jackson on their own with their slim majority, boosted by three Republican senators — Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney — who crossed party lines.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff watched from the gallery as Harris, his wife, presided over the session, though her tie-breaking vote would not be needed.

A short delay emerged when Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was late, making him the last to vote and slightly prolonging the inevitable outcome.

“What a great day it is for the United States of America,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock, the first Black senator from Georgia, in a speech before voting began.

Jackson’s journey to this moment “is a reflection of our own journey” toward the nation’s ideals, the senator said.

Harris, Warnock and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey all huddled near the dais.

She then reached into a folder she had on her desk and pulled out two pieces of vice-presidential stationery paper.

Harris handed one each to Warnock and Booker. The assignment for the only two Black Democrats in the Senate, she told them, was to write a letter to a young Black woman in their life to mark this day in history.

“I thought it was a beautiful gesture,” Booker told The Associated Press after the vote.

The former presidential candidate said there were a few people in his life that immediately came to mind, but he wanted more time to think it over.

Shortly after, Paul popped his head out from the side cloakroom to cast his no vote.

“On this vote, the yeas are 53, the nays are 47,” Harris said. The nomination was confirmed.

Cheers broke out in the gallery. Louder than any at the Capitol in recent memory.

Democratic senators stood in ovation.

Murkowski joined their side of the aisle.

Many Republican senators had already left as the Senate is about to start a two-week spring recess.

The remaining Republicans filed out of the chamber.

Romney, alone on his side, stood clapping.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who led the nomination to confirmation, gave a nod to the rare show of bipartisanship, harkening back to an earlier era.

During the debate, he noted that Romney’s father, a former Republican governor, had marched for civil rights in Michigan.

“To my colleague, Sen. Mitt Romney — you are your father’s son,” he said.

After the vote, the vice president, herself a history-making leader, took stock of the moment, at a time of brutal war overseas.

“There is so much about what’s happening in the world now that is presenting the worst of … human behavior,” Harris said. “And then we have a moment like this that I think reminds us that there is so much left to accomplish.”

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‘A moment like this’: Senate history in Supreme Court vote