Indiana senators make history in voting against Jackson confirmation

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U.S. Sen. Mike Braun and Sen. Todd Young made history April 7 when they both voted against the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first African American woman to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Republicans were the first U.S. Senators from Indiana to vote against the confirmation of a female nominee to the Supreme Court and the first to vote no for an African American nominee to become a justice. Jackson, who will fill the seat of retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, was confirmed on a 53 to 47 vote.

Indiana historian James Madison counseled against making broad assumptions about the Hoosier Senators’ personal reasoning behind their votes. The Indiana University emeritus professor of history does not believe their opposition indicates that Braun and Young are racist or anti-feminist.

Rather, Madison sees the votes as reflecting the shift Indiana’s political attitude.

“Partisanship – that is significant debates and acrimony between the two political parties – is not new,” Madison said. “We do have, I think, today, however, a much higher level of the negative consequences of partisanship and that is the degree to which differences are ideological or policy based. And that is one of the questions in the Supreme Court about whether (the no vote) is based on ideological differences, whether it’s based on policy difference or whether it’s simply party loyalty and self interest in the sense of voting in such a way as to get elected again.”

Young announced his intention to vote no in advance of the confirmation. He cited his concerns with Jackson’s judicial rulings as the reason for his opposition.

“After carefully reviewing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s judicial record and statements, I will not be supporting her nomination,” Young said in a statement prior to the vote. “The role of a Supreme Court justice is to apply the law as written and uphold the Constitution, not legislate from the bench. Both Judge Jackson’s record and testimony during her confirmation hearings indicate that she does not adhere to originalism as her guiding judicial philosophy.”

Braun also linked his no vote to what he saw as Jackson’s judicial activism.

“Today I met with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to keep my promise to treat this nominee with respect, and we had a good conversation,” Braun stated on April 5.  “I previously voted against Judge Jackson due to her activist judicial approach, and based on her record on the federal bench and her answers on issues raised in the committee hearings, I will vote against her nomination on that basis again.”

Both Young and Braun also voted against confirming Jackson to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 14, 2021.

Madison said the no votes could be viewed as more evidence that Indiana’s leadership are out of step with Hoosiers and, as a result, the state is falling behind the times. The political leaders, he said, do not seem willing to exert the effort to move Indiana forward in its positions. But with the demographics changing, the next generation of Hoosiers may not have the patience for the status quo.

“I think in a generation when there are more Black voters, more ethnic voters, more female voters, more young voters…who trend away from this extremely conservative politics, they may not accept this kind of a vote (against confirming a minority female justice),” Madison said.

Dating back to Sandra Day O’Connor’s historic confirmation as the first woman Supreme Court Justice, the senators from Indiana have given their support for female nominees.

The late Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, Republican, was joined by his fellow Hoosier, Republican Sen. Dan Quayle, in voting to confirm O’Connor on Sept. 21, 1981.

Lugar and Republican Rep. Sen. Dan Coats voted to send  Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court on Aug. 3, 1993. Then Lugar and his Democratic colleague, Sen. Evan Bayh, helped confirm Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic woman on the Supreme Court, on Aug. 6, 2009, and supported Elena Kagan on Aug. 5, 2010.

Finally, Braun and Young voted yes on the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett less than two years ago on Oct. 26, 2020.

Previously when African Americans have been nominated to the Supreme Court, Indiana’s senate delegation has voted to confirm.

When the confirmation vote for Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court, was held Aug. 30, 1967, Indiana Democratic Sen. Birch Bayh voted yes. Indiana’s other senator, Rupert Vance Hartke, was marked as absent.

However, Madison said he is “almost certain” Hartke would have voted to confirm.

Also, when Clarence Thomas was confirmed  on Oct. 15, 1991, both Lugar and Coats voted yes.

Madison said Jackson’s ascension is a “great, great step forward.” Yet he also recognized the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. would be asking why the country took so long to confirm a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

“It doesn’t help us much to condemn an earlier generation for not being as smart as we are,” Madison said. “But … we have to think in terms of where we are today and why are we not moving more quickly, mor effectively on addressing other shortcomings in our democracy. I think that’s a question always to be asked, ‘Why not earlier?’”

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