Mitt Romney Explains His Surprising Reversal On Ketanji Brown Jackson

The Utah senator is supporting President Joe Biden's Supreme Court nominee after voting against her for a lower court position last year.

WASHINGTON ― Last year, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) opposed President Joe Biden’s nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to a seat on the D.C. federal appeals court.

On Monday, the Utah Republican voted to advance Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court, a rare reversal in the deeply divided Senate, where ugly confirmation fights over the highest court in the land are quickly becoming the norm.

“In her previous confirmation vote, I had concerns about whether or not she was in the mainstream,” Romney told reporters on Tuesday. “And having spent time with her personally and reviewing her testimony before Congress [I] became convinced that she is in the mainstream.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is supporting Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for a seat on the Supreme Court after opposing her nomination to a lower court last year.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is supporting Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for a seat on the Supreme Court after opposing her nomination to a lower court last year.
Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In announcing his support for Jackson, which came as a bit of a surprise, Romney called the judge a “well-qualified jurist” and a “person of honor” even though he said they may differ on ideological grounds.

For Romney and the other two Republicans backing Jackson ― Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska ― Jackson’s nomination is an opportunity to dial down some of the sharp rhetoric that has come to define high court confirmations and restore public confidence in the institution.

“We’re following a different standard today than we followed 20 years ago, when individuals are judged based upon simply their qualifications, and now we’re looking to determine something about other matters,” Romney said Tuesday, describing the Senate confirmation process.

Republicans launched ugly and misleading accusations against Jackson over her quite mainstream record of sentencing sex offenders, cherry-picking cases and ignoring similar sentences handed down by Republican-appointed judges. The GOP senators who are backing Jackson are even being smeared as “pro-pedophile” by some on the right.

Fears are growing that a president may never again get their Supreme Court nominee confirmed if their party doesn’t control the Senate. Republicans infamously denied President Barack Obama a chance to fill a Supreme Court seat in 2016, refusing to even give his nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was noncommittal about the possibility of a 2023 Supreme Court confirmation hearing, the third year of Biden’s presidency, if the GOP retakes control of the chamber.

“Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell said last year.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), meanwhile, was far more explicit on that point, suggesting Monday that Republicans would not have held hearings on Jackson’s nomination if they were in control of the Senate.

“If we were in charge, she would not have been before this committee. You would’ve had somebody more moderate than this,” Graham said.

Graham voted to confirm Jackson to her current seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit last year. But in a reverse-Romney move, Graham is opposing Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court ― the first time he’ll oppose a Supreme Court pick since joining the Senate in 2003.

“Now that you’re talking about Supreme Court, you’re making policy, not just bound by it,” Graham said Monday to explain his opposition to Jackson.

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