Moments before the Senate began Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation vote to become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, the chamber filled with the swell of history.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus walked through the doors of the Senate, entering the chamber to witness the moment. Black female lawmakers sat shoulder to shoulder along the back walls.
The visitor galleries above, largely closed these past two years, first from the COVID pandemic and then insurrection at the Capitol, filled with young people, including many young Black men and women, some congressional staffers, to watch.
Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who protected the chamber against an extremist mob on Jan. 6, 2021, ushered people into the gallery, guarding the members and their visitors once again.
“I’m here today to witness history,” said freshman Rep. Marilyn Strickland, D-Wash. “It’s touching, it’s moving and I’m so proud.”
Vice President Kamala Harris, who presided over the session, called for the vote.
“The clerk will call the roll,” she said, beaming.
Senators remained seated, as is the tradition for momentous votes, and the roll was called one name at a time.
Despite the political divisions over President Joe Biden’s historic Supreme Court pick, the first Black woman in the court’s 233-year history, the last day of the process carried more celebration than tension, coming to a final vote not with a bitter public fight but a flourish.
The 53-47 tally was no cliffhanger. Democrats had the votes to confirm Jackson on their own with their slim majority, boosted by three Republican senators — Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney — who crossed party lines to do so.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff watched from the gallery as Harris, his wife, presided over the session, though her tie-breaking vote would not be needed.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was late, making him the last to vote while slightly prolonging the outcome.
“What a great day it is for the United States of America,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock, the first Black senator from Georgia, in a speech before voting began.
Jackson’s journey to this moment “is a reflection of our own journey” toward the nation’s ideals, the senator said.
Harris, Warnock and Black Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey all huddled near the dais.
After some long minutes, Paul cast his no vote from the side cloakroom.
“On this vote, the yeas are 53, the nays are 47,” Harris said. The nomination was confirmed.
Cheers broke out in the gallery. Louder than any at the Capitol in recent memory.
Democratic senators stood in ovation.
Murkowski joined their side of the aisle.
Many Republican senators had already left. The Senate is about to start a two-week spring recess.
The remaining Republican senators filed out of the chamber.
Romney, alone on his side, stood clapping.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who led the nomination to confirmation, gave a nod to the rare show of bipartisanship, harkening back to an earlier era.
During the debate, I noted that Romney’s father, a former Republican governor, had marched for civil rights in Michigan.
“To my colleague, Sen. Mitt Romney — you are your father’s son,” he said.
After the vote, the vice president, herself a history-making leader, took stock of the moment, at a time of brutal war overseas.
“There is so much about what’s happening in the world now that is presenting the worst of … human behavior,” Harris said. “And then we have a moment like this that I think reminds us that there is so much left to accomplish .”