The Senate on Thursday confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to be elevated to the pinnacle of the judicial branch in what her supporters hailed as a needed step toward bringing new diversity and life experience to the court.
Overcoming a concerted effort by conservative Republicans to derail her nomination, Judge Jackson was confirmed on a 53-to-47 vote, with three Republicans joining all 50 members of the Democratic caucus in backing her. The vote was a rejection of Republican attempts to paint her as a liberal extremist who has coddled criminals. Dismissing those portrayals as distorted and offensive, Judge Jackson’s backers saw the confirmation as an uplifting occasion, one where a representative of a group often pushed into the background instead moved to the forefront.
The vote put her in line to replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer when he retires at the end of the court’s session this summer.
“Even in the darkest times, there are bright lights,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said on the Senate floor. “Today is one of the brightest lights. Let us hope it’s a metaphor, an indication of many bright lights to come.”
He added, “How many millions of kids in generations past could have benefited from such a role model?” At the Capitol, the galleries to witness the historic vote, closed for much of the pandemic, were full of supporters. The chamber erupted in cheers, with senators, staff and visitors all jumping up for a lengthy standing ovation, after the vote was announced.
Not everyone shared in the joy of the day. As applause echoed from the marbled walls, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, turned his back and slowly walked out, as did most of the few Republicans remaining on the floor, leaving half of the chamber empty as the other half celebrated in a stark reflection of the partisan divide.
“When it came to one of the most consequential decisions a president can make, a lifetime appointment to our highest court, the Biden administration let the radicals run the show,” Mr. McConnell had said earlier, making one last argument against the judge, whose nomination he framed as an example of extremists taking control of the Democratic Party. “The far left got the reckless inflationary spending they wanted. The far left has gotten the insecure border they wanted. And today, the far left will get the Supreme Court justice they wanted.”
Three Republicans — Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah — crossed party lines to support Judge Jackson, lending a modicum of bipartisanship to an otherwise bitterly polarized process.
Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black woman to hold the position and one of just 11 Black senators in American history, presided over the vote — one historic figure presiding over the elevation of another — as senators stated their positions from their desks in a reflection of the magnitude of the moment. More than a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Representative Joyce Beatty of Ohio, clustered on the Senate floor to mark the occasion.
At the White House, Mr. Biden and Judge Jackson watched the vote together from the Roosevelt Room. Officials said the two would appear at an event on Friday to mark Judge Jackson’s confirmation, though she will not be sworn in for months.
“I’m overjoyed, deeply moved,” Ms. Harris told reporters after the vote. “There’s so much about what’s happening in the world now that is presenting some of the worst of this moment and human behaviors. And then we have a moment like this.”
The final debate came after a contentious confirmation battle in which conservative Republicans worked to derail Judge Jackson’s nomination and sully her record with misleading claims, painting her as a liberal extremist who has coddled criminals, particularly child sexual abuse defendants.
On Wednesday, ahead of the confirmation vote, some of the judge’s most vocal critics made a final airing of their objections at a news conference in the Capitol.
“She is an extreme outlier on the question of crime,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, told reporters, reiterating some of the misleading right-wing attacks that Judge Jackson had been lenient in her sentencing of criminal defendants, and in particular, sex offenders.
Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, claimed that “the dark money leftist groups” supporting Judge Jackson were “trying to push this agenda of woke education.”
Denouncing such criticism, her backers emphasized her deep qualifications and experience in the law, and characterized her impending confirmation as a triumph.
“This is really, in my view, a moment to celebrate,” said Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, urging the judge’s confirmation and lamenting that it would not be unanimously. “She is an inspiration to millions and millions of Americans.”
While the outcome of the vote was never in doubt, it dragged on for almost 30 minutes because Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, was not present on the floor. Once he had arrived, Mr. Paul cast his “no” vote from the Senate cloak room because he was dressed too casually to meet the jacket-and-tie dress code for the chamber.
When Ms. Harris called the vote, Mr. Romney stood to join Democrats in applauding, after many Republicans had already departed.
The dismissive attitude was in keeping with the hostile treatment to which Republicans subjected the first Black woman nominated for the high court during her confirmation process, but it did little to dampen the impact of the day for her supporters.
Many Democrats came prepared with tissues. Senators Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona and Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, were wiping away tears throughout the vote. Some Democrats lined up to shake hands with Mr. Romney. Representative Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, watching the proceedings from the floor, jumped up and down in excitement, while Representative GK Butterfield of North Carolina waved his mask in the air like a flag.
“Nobody’s going to steal my joy,” Senator Raphael Warnock, Democrat of Georgia, said in remarks ahead of the vote. “I’m a senator, I’m a pastor. But beyond all that, I’m the father of a young Black girl.” He said Judge Jackson’s ascension to the nation’s highest court exemplified “the promise of progress on which our democracy rests.”