Feb 27, 2022 - Politics & Policy

First look: Jackson gets heavyweight Republican backer

A photo shows Judge Thomas B. Griffith.
Judge Thomas R. Griffith. Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Judge Thomas R. Griffith, a retired Bush appointee to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, endorsed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's nomination to the Supreme Court in a letter written to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Jackson's nomination kicks off a monthlong process to confirm what would be the first Black woman to sit on the nation's highest court. The Biden administration has been trying to court Republican votes in the 50-50 Senate, with uncertain success.

What we're watching: Griffith is the first of several Republican legal luminaries who'll be speaking out this week in favor of Jackson, a person familiar with the matter told Axios.

  • Griffith was nominated in 2004 by Republican President George W. Bush to serve on the same appellate court on which Jackson now sits. He's a graduate of Brigham Young University and has been active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the same faith as a Republican courted by Democrats, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
  • President Biden gave him a shoutout during his speech last week announcing Jackson's nomination.

Griffith wrote: "Judge Jackson has a demonstrated record of excellence, and I believe, based upon her work as a trial judge when I served on the Court of Appeals, that she will adjudicate based on the facts and the law and not as a partisan."

  • In his letter addressed to Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Griffith goes on to highlight Jackson's "careful approach, extraordinary judicial understanding and collegial manner."
  • Notably, Jackson — whose uncles and brother have worked in policing — also has the support of the country’s largest policing organization, the Fraternal Order of Police.

The big picture: When Jackson was confirmed last year to the D.C. Circuit, a federal appeals court that often serves as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court, she had the support of all 50 Democratic senators and three Republicans.

  • But former Senate Judiciary Committee General Counsel Nicholas Xenakis cautions that nominations to the Supreme Court are different.
  • "Even if the nominee has gone through the [lower court confirmation] process before, I do think that a lot of the members of the committee will all be looking at this anew," Xenakis told Axios.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — one of the three Republicans who voted for Jackson last June — says so herself.

  • “I’ve been clear that previously voting to confirm an individual to a lower court does not signal how I will vote for a Supreme Court justice," she said in a statement.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), another Republican who voted for Jackson, also is being courted by Democrats.

  • Collins told Axios that before Biden announced his pick, he called her twice to discuss candidates, and Durbin called her once early on in the process.
  • “Ketanji Brown Jackson is an experienced federal judge with impressive academic and legal credentials," Collins wrote in a statement after Biden announced his pick last Friday.

What they're saying: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the third Republican who backed Jackson last year, had pulled for another Supreme Court candidate from his home state, Judge J. Michelle Childs.

  • He complained after Jackson was named that "the radical Left has won President Biden over yet again."
  • Romney himself told CNN on Sunday: "Her nomination and her confirmation would or will be historic. And like anyone nominated by the president of the United States, she deserves a very careful look, a very deep dive. And I will provide fresh eyes to that evaluation, and hope that I will be able to support her in the final analysis."
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