The Thursday confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the US Supreme Court marks an undeniable success for Joe Biden, with the American president in dire need of fresh political uplift months before midterm elections.
The 79-year-old Democrat has made clear he intends to thoroughly capitalize on the historic appointment, which fulfills a top campaign promise: placing a Black woman for the first time onto the nation’s highest court, a nine-justice bench where America’s most pressing social debates are decided.
Biden hosted the highly respected judge at the White House on February 25 when he unveiled her as his nominee. Then he made it publicly known he called her up to offer encouragement ahead of marathon US Senate confirmation hearings before the judiciary committee that he himself once chaired as a senator.
On Thursday the White House ushered photographers into a room in the presidential mansion where they found Biden and Jackson watching the Senate confirmation vote live on television.
If that wasn’t enough, Biden posted a selfie of the occasion on the presidential Twitter account.
Finally, on Friday Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will fete Jackson at an event on the White House lawn.
With the rapid approach of the midterm elections, traditionally difficult for the incumbent president’s political party, Biden is desperate to build some political momentum.
His administration may be highlighting the US economy’s rapid rebound and a booming job market following coronavirus pandemic doldrums, but none of that is working.
American households see only their hard-earned dollars being swallowed up at the gas pump and the supermarket checkout counter due to galloping inflation.
The president’s job approval rating is hovering around 41 or 42 percent — dismal, with little signs of improvement.
If there was a slight uptick after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, which saw Biden take the reins of the Western response, it hardly lasted, with the nation’s partisan divides pushed to breaking point by previous president Donald Trump.
Such division played out during the Jackson hearings, even as the nominee herself has proven popular with the public.
“The Republicans want to win back the majority (in Congress), and so they were asking a lot, I think, of irrelevant questions,” said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias.
He also noted that while three Republicans broke ranks and voted to confirm Jackson, it was nothing like the bipartisan mood that surrounded Stephen Breyer, the justice whom Jackson is replacing.
He was confirmed 87-9 by the Senate in 1994; Biden’s nominee earned a 53-47 vote.
If he cannot jolt large swaths of voters to his side, Biden can at least hope the Jackson confirmation lights a fire under a crucial slice of the electorate: African Americans.
He owed them for the 2020 election, not just for getting him into the White House, but for securing a razor-thin Senate majority, after intense fieldwork by Black community leaders in Georgia helped wrest two seats away from Republicans.
But after the euphoria of those victories ebbed, many activists criticized Biden for abandoning some promises he made to minority voters, notably on addressing police brutality and defending voting rights.
Jackson’s appointment to the court could at least temporarily assuage the sting of previous disappointments. She has been praised by luminaries including former first lady Michelle Obama, as well as Martin Luther King III — son of the slain civil rights icon — and Stacey Abrams, the charismatic Black candidate for governor in Georgia.
In the end though, what really could spoil Friday’s party at the White House is Covid-19; infections have exploded in recent days in Washington and its small world of politics and media.