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The Senate is expected to confirm Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Senate is expected to vote today to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the highest court of the land. Her fate was never in doubt, but was cemented when three Republican senators said they would join with all 50 Democrats to confirm Judge Jackson. Judge Jackson would make history as the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court. And despite her legal bona fides, her confirmation was not without controversy. Joining us now to discuss all this is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Hi, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hello there, Leila.

FADEL: So why was there so much opposition from Republicans to Judge Jackson's nomination?

TOTENBERG: The Republicans cited concerns with her judicial philosophy, her sentencing record in a handful of cases related to child pornography - which they've called sympathetic to offenders - and her record as a public defender for a couple of Guantanamo Bay detainees. But let's get down to basics. Republicans were largely going to oppose whoever Biden chose. Senate Republican leaders wouldn't even give Obama nominee Merrick Garland a hearing - remember that? So for literally more than a decade, they've built a wall of opposition to liberal and moderate judicial nominees, especially at the Supreme Court level, but for all levels. Let me just give you one statistic. According to Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution, if you look at the appeals court nominees in the first two years of the Trump administration, 15 out of 30 got at least ten Democratic votes. And if you compare that to the Biden nominees in the first year - plus a little - only two out of 15 got more than ten Republican votes. So when you get to a Supreme Court nomination, everything is on steroids, and South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham is a prime example.

FADEL: So Senator Graham voted for the two most recent Democratic nominees to the Supreme Court - Justices Sotomayor and Kagan - and he voted to confirm Jackson a year ago for the court of appeals, but now he's not voting for Judge Jackson. Why?

TOTENBERG: Well, for whatever reason, Graham worked himself into a temper when the potential nominee he was supporting, Judge Michelle Childs, from his home state of South Carolina, didn't get nominated. From the get-go at the confirmation hearing, it was clear he would take out that disappointment on Judge Jackson. In fact, Graham even said her nomination should never have been considered by the committee, and if Republicans regain the Senate, he seemed to say, they simply would refuse to consider nominees like her.

FADEL: It's worth noting, though, that three Republican senators have now said they will vote to confirm Judge Jackson - Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, right?

TOTENBERG: Right. For me, the most interesting of the three is Romney because, less than a year ago, he voted against Jackson when she was nominated to the D.C. Court of Appeals.

FADEL: Oh.

TOTENBERG: My assumption is that, back then, Romney was being a good team player and voting the way Mitch McConnell wanted him to. And this time, he actually thought about it and decided that, while he didn't expect to agree with every decision Judge Jackson might make, she, quote, "more than meets the standard of excellence and integrity." And Lisa Murkowski, who has a tough primary race this year, said something very similar and added that her vote, quote, "also rests on my rejection of the corrosive politicization of the review process for Supreme Court nominees, which on both sides of the aisle is growing worse and more detached from reality by the year."

FADEL: And Senator Collins made a similar point in her statement, right?

TOTENBERG: Yes. She said that anyone who watched the Jackson confirmation hearings would reach the conclusion that the confirmation process is, quote, "broken."

FADEL: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Thank you so much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.