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Senate confirms Ketanji Brown Jackson to become first black woman on Supreme Court

April 7, 2022 Catholic News Agency 3
US President Joe Biden and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson watch the US Senate vote on whether to approve Judge Brown’s appointment to the US Supreme Court in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 7, 2022. / Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images.

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2022 / 14:26 pm (CNA).

Ketanji Brown Jackson, a federal judge who also served as a federal public defender and a private practice lawyer, will become the first black woman to sit on the Supreme Court.

The Senate voted 53-47 Thursday to confirm Jackson, President Joe Biden’s pick to succeed Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, for whom Jackson once clerked.

Three Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah — joined with the Senate’s 50 Democrats to secure Jackson’s confirmation.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, the Senate majority leader, said Jackson’s historic confirmation reflected Democrats’ commitment to bring greater diversity to the U.S. judiciary. Biden pledged during his presidential campaign to choose a black woman as his first Supreme Court nominee.

“We certainly have a long way to go on the road to true justice, but by confirming Judge Jackson today, we are taking a bold step forward towards reaching the full realization of our country’s promise,” Schumer said.

“We will make it far more likely that girls across America will feel precisely what Judge Jackson felt herself when she was a kid: Nobody can stop me. I can do this, too. I am brilliant, too. I belong, too.”

Viewed as a progressive, “activist” judge by her conservative critics, Jackson won’t change the ideological balance of the court, where conservatives hold a 6-3 majority.

Nor will she participate in the upcoming Mississippi abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson, which many abortion opponents see as the best, and possibly last, chance to overturn the landmark 1973 decision Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide. A decision in Dobbs is expected at the end of June, just before she joins the court.

But at age 51, Jackson could serve on the nation’s highest court for decades to come.

Pro-life opposition

First nominated to a federal judgeship by President Barack Obama, Jackson had few direct dealings with the abortion issue as a U.S. District Court judge for the District of Columbia and an appellate court judge.

But her nomination drew strong opposition from pro-life groups. They pointed to the enthusiastic support her nomination received from Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S., and a legal brief she co-authored as a private practice lawyer they say denigrated pro-life sidewalk counselors.

“Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation fulfills President Biden’s promise to the abortion lobby and raises the stakes of this year’s critical midterm elections,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement Thursday.

“As we await a decision in the Dobbs case, momentum is growing nationwide to protect unborn children and their mothers. Americans of all stripes want to modernize our extreme laws that allow abortion on demand up to birth, well after science shows babies in the womb feel pain. More than ever we need pro-life champions in the states and Washington who act on the will of the people and represent their values.”

After several days of questioning Jackson, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday deadlocked, 11 to 11, along party lines, on whether to support her nomination. The tie vote made it necessary for the Senate to approve procedural steps to clear the path for a vote by the full Senate Thursday afternoon.

Democrats on the judiciary committee praised Jackson as a distinguished, even-handed jurist whose confirmation as the first black woman Supreme Court justice would mark a historic, inspirational milestone in U.S. history. 

Republicans, on the other hand, criticized her for what they saw as her record of judicial activism, and some Republicans maintained that she showed undue leniency in her sentencing of convicted child porn offenders, a charge her supporters denied.

Despite the pro-life opposition Jackson faced, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a self-described pro-life Democrat and Catholic, voted in favor of her confirmation.

“Today, I was proud to cast my vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States,” Manchin, a Catholic, said in a statement Thursday.

“Judge Jackson’s record and career are exemplary. She has shown tremendous grace through what has been a difficult confirmation process and has proven without a doubt that she has the temperament and credentials to serve on our nation’s highest court,” he added. “In doing so, she has bravely paved the way so future generations may follow in her footsteps.”

Federal experience

Born in Washington, D.C., Jackson grew up in the Miami area and earned her undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University, where she was the editor of the Harvard Law Review.

After her clerkship with Breyer, Jackson entered private practice and later served as a federal public defender in Washington, D.C., and vice chair and commissioner for the United States Sentencing Commission, a bi-partisan independent federal agency, prior to becoming a federal judge.

Jackson watched the confirmation vote Thursday with Biden at the White House. They are scheduled to give remarks together Friday afternoon at a White House ceremony.


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Pro-abortion Women’s Health Protection Act fails in US Senate

February 28, 2022 Catholic News Agency 2
Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) speaks against the Women’s Health Protection Act on the Senate floor, Feb. 28, 2022. / Screenshot/U.S. Senate

Washington D.C., Feb 28, 2022 / 17:05 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Senate failed to move forward with the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) on Monday, striking down what some pro-life groups identify as the most radical abortion bill in U.S. history.

The WHPA “would enshrine into federal law abortion on demand until the moment of birth, and it would nullify state laws — new and existing – that protect unborn children and their mothers,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, warned ahead of the vote.

The Feb. 28 cloture vote, with 46 for and 48 against the WHPA, needed 60 votes to proceed. It fell largely along party lines with only one Democrat (Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia) voting against proceeding with the bill that would override states’ pro-life laws and remove restrictions on abortion up to the point of birth in some cases. No Republicans voted in support of the WHPA.

Why is the Senate voting on the WHPA now?

While the act did not pass, the vote itself was historic. 

Ahead of the vote on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the Senate floor: “This will be the first time that the Senate takes a vote on a standalone bill to proactively codify Roe.”

The Senate’s vote comes as the Supreme Court prepares to issue a ruling later this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that threatens Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. The Dobbs case centers on the question of “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional,” or whether states can ban abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb, which the court previously determined to be 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy.

If the Supreme Court does not uphold Roe when it decides Dobbs, abortion could be left up to individual states. The WHPA threatens these state laws.

“Sadly, it seems like the Supreme Court is posed to severely limit abortion rights in the coming months,” Schumer said Monday. “That’s why this bill is essential.”

During a press conference hosted by Senators Steve Daines, founder and chair of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, and James Lankford, chair of the Values Action Team, Republican senators criticized the timing of the vote during the invasion of Ukraine and called the WHPA more extreme than Roe.

Daines recognized the WHPA as the “most extreme legislation on abortion ever considered in the history of this body.”

On the Senate floor, Lankford added that the WHPA is “not going to just codify Roe.”

“This is talking about stripping away every protection for every child in the womb from any state in the country.” Later, he added, “This bill is the one-minute-from-infanticide bill. It mandates abortion in every state up to the moment of birth.”

What is the WHPA?

The WHPA would prohibit abortion restrictions or bans “that are more burdensome than those restrictions imposed on medically comparable procedures, do not significantly advance reproductive health or the safety of abortion services, and make abortion services more difficult to access.”

The act’s text lists a series of specific restrictions it would do away with, on everything from limitations on telemedicine to restrictions around viability, which the act defines as the point when a fetus can survive outside the womb — determined by “the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider.”

The WHPA would forbid any kind of limit on abortion before fetal viability, including “a prohibition or restriction on a particular abortion procedure.” After viability, the WHPA would outlaw limits on abortion “when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health.”

National pro-life groups, such as SBA List, have expressed concern over this section because the Supreme Court, in Doe v. Bolton, broadly defined what “may relate to health,” including “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the wellbeing of the patient.”

SBA List previously warned that the WHPA would also “nullify pro-life laws in states across the country, including late-term abortion limits when unborn children can feel pain, waiting periods, informed consent laws, antidiscrimination laws, and more.”

Last September, the House passed the WHPA in a vote that fell along party lines, with one Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, joining Republicans to vote against it. Along the way, the Biden administration repeatedly expressed support for the bill.

Pro-life leaders respond to the vote

Ahead of the vote, multiple pro-life leaders expressed concern over the WHPA and stressed that the act ignored the will of the people.

“The March for Life condemns this bill in the strongest possible terms,” Mancini said. “The misnamed Women’s Health Protection Act is the most radical abortion bill in United States history.” 

She cited a Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll survey released in January that found that 71% of Americans, including 49% of Democrats, want to see abortion limited to – at most – the first three months of pregnancy.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony List, also criticized the WHPA. 

“Biden, Pelosi and Schumer’s ‘Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act’ would enshrine an unlimited abortion ‘right’ in federal law and block common ground pro-life laws around the country, including limits on late-term abortions when unborn babies feel pain, bans on lethal discrimination abortions, and many more,” she said. “[N]ational Democratic leaders’ support for abortion on demand without limits, at taxpayer expense, is grossly out of step with the will of the American people.” 

As president and founder of Live Action, Lila Rose wanted that if the WHPA passed, it “would be the single most destructive piece of legislation enacted in the history of our nation.”

Like Mancini and Dannenfelser, she said, “The American people do not want this horrific bill aimed exclusively at ensuring the ongoing and expanded destruction of hundreds of thousands of helpless, innocent preborn children.”

“We must walk with families materially, emotionally, and spiritually to show them that they can choose life for their children,” she added. “The Women’s Health Protection Act does the exact opposite, radically expanding the killing of children through all nine months of pregnancy.”

Two senior fellows at The Catholic Association also reacted to the approaching vote.

“In pushing the Women’s Health Protection Act, the Democrats show that their pro-abortion extremism knows no bounds,” Ashley McGuire stressed. “The law, if passed, would override the will of the people in every state that has passed, through legislative means, commonsense protections for women and babies.”

Maureen Ferguson called the WHPA “the most extreme, undemocratic abortion bill ever introduced in Congress.” 

“It would override every limit on abortion everywhere in the country, including limits on late-term abortion, parental consent laws, and conscience protections for doctors and nurses who do not wish to participate in abortions,” she said. “The Women’s Health Protection Act is Roe vs. Wade on steroids.”