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Senate panel to vote on Ketanji Brown Jackson's Supreme Court nomination

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Will Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court? A series of procedural meetings and votes this week in the U.S. Senate begin with a vote in the Judiciary Committee today that could end in a partisan deadlock. But Jackson still could be confirmed by the full Senate later this week.

Amy Howe is a reporter with SCOTUSblog. And she's with us to explore the impact on the high court from a likely Associate Justice Jackson. Amy, all right, so let's start with the votes in the Senate. Any reason, any reason at all to think that Jackson will not be confirmed?

AMY HOWE: Not really. You know, the Democrats have 50 votes. And Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who is a Republican, has already announced that she will be voting for Judge Jackson. The only real question is whether or not they will be able to pick up any additional Republican votes. When Judge Jackson was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in 2021, two other Republicans who voted for her - Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Lindsey Graham has already said he won't be voting for her. But Lisa Murkowski hasn't said anything. So it's possible they may pick up another Republican vote or two. But it seems like a confirmation, barring some really unforeseen development, is inevitable.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. Kamala Harris owns the tiebreaker. So if the Democrats go 50 and...

HOWE: Exactly.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. So there that goes. All right. Now, we know that there is a solid 6-3 conservative majority on the court. Jackson was nominated to replace one of the three liberals, Stephen Breyer. So if that balance on the court, Amy, does not change, what influence will she have?

HOWE: So on a sort of big picture, it's not really clear that the substitution of a Justice Jackson for Justice Breyer is going to make any difference in the outcome of the big cases that the Supreme Court is expected to hear. You know, we've heard a lot about how she is going to be the first federal public defender on the bench. And certainly, as the first Black woman to be a justice, you know, it's going to be different than having Stephen Breyer, who's a white man, on the bench. And so you will see - you know, in the oral arguments and probably in her decisions, you'll see the influence. But in terms of the 6-3 conservative majority, you know, and in these big cases that the Supreme Court's going to hear next year, you know, she's not going to change the outcome of these cases the same way that having President Trump nominate, for example, Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was one of the court's senior liberals in 2020, had on the balance of the court.

MARTINEZ: A lot of big issues, though, that could be ahead - cases on voting, immigration, abortion rights. Jackson won't join the court until Breyer steps down after the current term. Will Jackson's judicial approach, or maybe, as she calls it, her methodology, have an impact?

HOWE: It's hard to say because we haven't seen her in action. And she talked about how, you know, she didn't have a philosophy...

MARTINEZ: Yeah.

HOWE: ...She had a methodology. But they've got, you know, three big cases already on the docket for next term. And so we're going to get a good look at how she works.

They have - coming up, they have a case involving the use of race in college admissions. And she is going to be recused from the case involving Harvard because she's currently on the university's board of overseers. But they can also reach the issue of whether or not colleges can consider race in admissions in a case involving University of North Carolina. That is already on the docket for the fall. There's a case involving the woman who owns a graphic design firm and wants to expand her business to include wedding websites. But she doesn't, for religious reasons, want to design websites for same-sex weddings. And she wants to post a message on her own website to explain that. But that would violate a Colorado antidiscrimination law. The justices have already agreed to take up that case. It's going to be on their docket in the fall.

And then they've got a big case involving the Voting Rights Act - a challenge to the map that Alabama is going to use in the 2020 elections. A lower court has said that it likely violates a provision of the Voting Rights Act that bars racial discrimination in voting. But the Supreme Court's going to hear oral arguments in that case as well. So we're going to get a really good look at how she operates in these cases quite soon.

MARTINEZ: Is there a sense at all of how different Breyer and Jackson may be?

HOWE: You know, we have - Justice Breyer on the Supreme Court has this sort of both simultaneously absentminded professor approach, where he asks these hypotheticals that can take up, you know, literally pages in the transcript, but then, at the same time, he's very interested in how the law works for ordinary people. He is the first one often at oral arguments to say, how are we going to write this? And so in that sense, you know, when you talk about Justice Jackson - you know, if her approach is to look at the facts and look at the law, she may also be, particularly as someone who was a district judge and a court of appeals judge and had to put these decisions into place, someone who's also very interested in how the law is going to work for real people.

MARTINEZ: That's Amy Howe with SCOTUSblog - Amy, thanks.

HOWE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.