Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), an influential Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is signaling he’s leaning toward voting “no” on President Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, despite voting last year to confirm her to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Only a few weeks ago Graham was dangling the prospect of a big bipartisan vote to confirm the first Black woman to the Supreme Court if Biden nominated South Carolina federal district Judge J. Michelle Childs.
But now, even though Graham has yet to announce how he will vote, the early signs point to “no.”
The South Carolina senator is miffed that Biden passed on Childs after labor groups pushed back on her potential nomination. Graham says she was derailed by dark-money liberal advocacy groups.
Despite voting to seat Jackson on the nation’s second most powerful court less than a year ago, Graham now says the choice of Jackson “means the radical left has won President Biden over yet again.”
“The reason Michelle Childs is not the nominee is because of a concerted effort by the left to take her down and that doesn’t sit very well with me,” he said in separate remarks last week.
“Here’s the point: I was willing to get probably double-digit Republican support for somebody that would have been in the liberal camp from my state,” he added, referring to Childs. “So they made a political decision to reject bipartisanship and go another way.”
He said Biden “can pick anybody he wants and I can vote any way I want.”
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Republicans on Tuesday defended Graham’s change of opinion, arguing the stakes for a Supreme Court confirmation vote are much higher that a nominee to the D.C. Circuit.
“I don’t think voting for a circuit nominee guarantees a vote for the Supreme Court. I think people view that as different. Circuit court has to follow Supreme Court precedent, a Supreme Court judge does not,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), a senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
Democrats, meanwhile, appear to have given up serious hope of convincing Graham to vote for Jackson and are putting more effort into a charm campaign aimed at other Republicans.
A Senate Democratic aide on Tuesday said Graham’s early statements indicate he’s not planning to vote for the nominee.
If Graham is a “no,” Democrats will be hard-pressed to get more than only two Republican votes for Jackson. Graham and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) were the only three Republicans to vote to confirm her to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in June.
Graham has voted for every Supreme Court nominee since he came to the Senate in 2003 and his souring on Jackson, whom even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court, shows how partisan Senate confirmation battles have become.
Obama’s two nominees to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who were both widely regarded as liberal judges, won Senate confirmation by 68 and 63 votes, respectively.
Graham said the Democrats’ scorched-earth tactics against Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his 2018 confirmation fight “definitely changed my view of how this place works.”
“I vote for a good portion of their judges but I seem to be the only one playing this game,” he said, highlighting the relative lack of bipartisan support for Trump’s three Supreme Court nominees.
Collins, who met with Jackson on Tuesday, also voted for Sotomayor and Kagan, while Murkowski voted against them both.
Murkowski’s votes, however, came before she lost the 2010 Republican primary to Tea Party-affiliated conservative Joe Miller. She has since shifted more to the center of the ideological spectrum.
The high-water mark for Senate bipartisanship on a Supreme Court nominee in the last 20 years came when then-President George W. Bush nominated John Roberts to serve as chief justice in 2005.
Roberts won 78 Senate votes, including the votes of 22 Democrats and one independent who caucused with Democrats, the late Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.).
Sens. Tom Carper (Del.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are the only Democrats in that group still in Congress.
Graham on Tuesday said he does not know when he will meet with Jackson and that Biden has not reached out to him personally to ask for his support.
Biden, by contrast, has already spoken twice to Collins about Jackson.
Collins praised the nominee’s “thorough, careful approach” to applying the law after meeting with her more than 90 minutes.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who plans to reach out to several Republican colleagues about potentially voting for Jackson, said Tuesday that he hasn’t spoken to Graham and doesn’t know what he might do.
He said there are “a handful” of Republicans he hopes to persuade but isn’t making any guarantees about the final vote count.
“I have a handful or more that I’m talking to but I’m not making any predictions,” he said. “I’m not going to name names.”