By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters)—The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday deadlocked along party lines on moving forward on President Joe Biden's U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, with the full Senate still expected to confirm her later in the week as the first Black woman to serve on the nation's top judicial body.
The panel's 11-11 vote, with Biden's fellow Democrats in favor and Republicans united in opposition, pushes the confirmation battle into its next phase – a showdown on the Senate floor. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said shortly before the committee action that he will "set in motion" the process that will lead to a final Senate vote later this week to confirm Jackson, a federal appellate court judge, to the lifetime post.
If confirmed, Jackson would join the liberal bloc on a court with a 6-3 conservative majority.
The committee vote followed confirmation hearings last month that once again exposed a stark partisan divide toward Supreme Court nominees. Democrats praised her qualifications and record while hailing the history-making aspect of her nomination. Republicans often pursued hostile lines of questioning and tried to paint Jackson as a dangerous liberal activist.
With a simple majority needed for confirmation and the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties, Jackson would get the job if Democrats remain united, as they appear to be, regardless of how the Republicans vote. Biden's fellow Democrats control the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote. Senator Susan Collins, not a member of the committee, last week became the only Republican to announce support for Jackson.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, the committee's chairman, noted on Monday that the panel had voted to confirm Jackson to three previous posts and he lamented what he called baseless attacks by some Republicans.
"They repeatedly interrupted and badgered Judge Jackson and accused her of vile things in front of her parents, her husband and her children. There was table-pounding – some literal – from a few of my colleagues. They repeated discredited claims about Judge Jackson's character," Durbin said.
Several Republican senators accused her of being lenient on child pornography offenders during her time as a federal trial court judge. Jackson defended her record, saying she did her "duty to hold the defendants accountable." Sentencing experts called the penalties she imposed within the mainstream among federal judges, while American Bar Association witnesses rejected claims that Jackson was "soft on crime."
Senator Chuck Grassley, the committee's top Republican, called Jackson "very personable and engaging" but complained that more documents on her judicial record should have been released and took issue with her on a number of matters.
"Having carefully studied her record, unfortunately, I think she and I have fundamentally different views on the roles of judges and the role that they should play in our system of government. Because of those disagreements I cannot support her nomination," Grassley said.
During her confirmation hearings, Jackson, 51, pledged independence if confirmed and embraced a limited role for jurists. She also reflected on opportunities she has had that her parents, who grew up in era of racial segregation in the South, did not.
Senator Lindsay Graham, the committee's sole Republican to vote to confirm Jackson last June for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, helped seal its deadlock by deciding to vote no this time.
Graham on Monday again aired grievances about how Democrats treated previous Republican Supreme Court nominees, while accusing Jackson of being evasive during her confirmation hearings and giving answers that he said indicated she would be an activist judge molding her rulings to her own beliefs.
The committee deadlock did not block Jackson's nomination because Democrats plan to hold a vote on the Senate floor to pave the way for a confirmation vote. They expect a final confirmation vote on Thursday or Friday.
Jackson would replace retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)