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Senate confirms D.C. Circuit nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson

WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Monday to the influential federal appeals court in Washington, elevating a trial court judge who is considered a contender for a potential opening on the Supreme Court.

Three Republicans joined Democrats in approving Jackson's nomination in a 53 to 44 vote.

Jackson, 50, was nominated in March as part of Biden's first slate of judicial picks from diverse personal and professional backgrounds. She fills the vacancy left on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who served on the bench for 24 years.

A former law clerk to Justice Stephen Breyer, Jackson is often mentioned as someone who could fulfill President Joe Biden's pledge to put the first Black woman on the high court.

In advance of Monday's vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., noted that women, especially women of color, have long been underrepresented on the federal bench and said Democrats are "working quickly to close the gap." He called Jackson an "outstanding, trailblazing nominee" with "all the qualities of a model jurist."

Jackson's confirmation was expected. She received support Monday from Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who all voted to advance her nomination in a procedural vote last week.

The Biden administration is trying to quickly put its imprint on the federal judiciary and take advantage of the Democrats' slim majority in the Senate. Democrats are playing catch-up to President Donald Trump, who moved at a historic pace to install more than 200 judges — including three Supreme Court justices — in four years.

Many Democrats are hoping Breyer, the court's oldest justice, will retire and create an opening for a younger liberal jurist while the party retains its majority.

While Jackson was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2013 to serve on the District Court, the stakes are significantly higher for the D.C. Circuit that has often been a steppingstone to the Supreme Court.

After graduating from Harvard University and its law school, Jackson was a law clerk to three judges, including Breyer. Before her nomination to the District Court, she worked as a federal public defender in Washington and served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where she helped ensure that a reduction in penalties for drug-related offenses applied retroactively.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill., praised Jackson's record and her work on sentencing policy.

"Judge Jackson has grappled with the legal, intellectual and moral challenges that come with sentencing policy and decisions," Durbin said on the Senate floor before the vote.

During her eight years on the trial court bench, Jackson has handled a wide range of cases and issued a series of rulings against the Trump administration.

She ordered Trump's former White House counsel Donald McGahn to comply with a House subpoena, declaring "presidents are not kings." The case twice reached the appeals court before it was settled by the Biden administration and House Democrats, in an agreement that led to McGahn's belated closed-door testimony last week about the former special counsel's Russia investigation.

Jackson also issued a nationwide preliminary injunction that blocked the Trump administration from dramatically expanding its power to deport migrants who illegally entered the United States by using a fast-track deportation process.

At her confirmation hearing, Jackson defended her independence in response to questions from Republicans about those rulings.

"It doesn't make a difference whether or not the argument is coming from a death row inmate or the president of the United States," she said. "I'm not injecting my personal views."

The Washington Post's Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

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