By Nandita Bose and Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Friday celebrated her historic confirmation as the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court with a declaration that “anything is possible” in America and a reference to fulfilling the dreams of slaves.
Jackson, a federal appellate judge, was confirmed to the lifetime post by the Senate on Thursday on a 53-47 vote in a milestone for the United States and a political victory for Democratic President Joe Biden, who nominated her in February. Jackson, 51, will replace the retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, later in the year on the liberal bloc of a court with a 6-3 conservative majority.
“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States,” Jackson said at an event on the White House South Lawn, American flags fluttering in the background. “But we’ve made it – we’ve made it – all of us, all of us,” she said.
Biden pledged as a presidential candidate to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court if given the chance.
“We’re going to look back and see this as a moment of real change in American history,” Biden said, with Jackson and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black and Asian American woman to hold that job, flanking him at the podium.
Black women are a key Democratic constituency and helped propel Biden to the party’s presidential nomination in 2020 with a victory in its pivotal South Carolina primary.
Jackson quoted another famous Black woman, the late poet Maya Angelou, in describing her own historic ascent to the nation’s top judicial body.
“‘Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave,'” Jackson said, alluding to America’s legacy of slavery. “In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Harris noted that Jackson’s confirmation also means that four women will be serve together on the Supreme Court for the first time.
The outdoor setting was chosen in part as a nod to COVID-19 safety amid a rise in cases in the Washington region and a raft of top Democrats becoming infected.
Given a standing ovation by the audience, Jackson thanked Biden and vowed to rule independently as a justice “without fear or favor” while aiming to uphold the rule of law.
Jackson is due to replace Breyer after he departs at the end of the court’s current term, usually in late June. All but three of the 115 justices who have served on the high court have been white, with two Black members, including current Justice Clarence Thomas, and one Hispanic, current Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Biden said he knew that his Supreme Court nominee would face a painful and difficult confirmation process.
“What Judge Jackson was put through was well beyond that – there was verbal abuse, the anger, the constant interruptions, the most vile, baseless assertions and accusations. In the face of it all, Judge Jackson showed the incredible character and integrity she possesses – poise,” Biden added.
During her March confirmation hearings, some Republican senators pursued hostile lines of questioning including accusing her of being too lenient as a trial judge in sentencing child pornography offenders.
Jackson said she has received notes of support, including from children.
“And our children are telling me that they see now more than ever that here in America anything is possible,” Jackson said.
Biden has been suffering in opinion polls, with high inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushing geopolitical concerns to the fore. Jackson’s confirmation could be a needed jolt to excite Black voters and other left-leaning constituents ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections in which Democrats risk losing control of one or both chambers of Congress.
A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll completed on Tuesday showed that Biden’s public approval rating inched higher this week to 45%, up 3 percentage points amid stronger support from within his Democratic Party. In the poll, Biden’s job approval among minorities was 53%.
Among those invited to the event were members of Jackson’s family, various Democratic lawmakers, labor figures and advocacy groups. Biden thanked the three Republican senators who broke with their party to vote for Jackson: Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney. They did not attend the ceremony.
The decision to hold the event outdoors comes after former President Donald Trump’s 2020 nomination ceremony for his Supreme Court appointee Amy Coney Barrett turned into a COVID-19 super-spreader event, affecting many top Republicans who attended. During his four years in office Trump was able to appoint three justices, who together moved the court rightward.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose, Alexandra Alper and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Jason Lange; Editing by Will Dunham, Richard Pullin and Andrea Ricci)