Sen. Mitt Romney stood alone on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, surrounded by a sea of empty desks. He was the lone Republican standing to applaud the final vote to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. As Romney clapped, Sen. Mike Lee joined other Republicans in exiting the chamber.
Romney was one of three Republicans who joined all 50 Democrats to confirm Jackson, who will be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court. Lee was one of 47 Republicans to vote nay. The Utah senators splitting their vote was hardly surprising.
Lee voted against Jackson’s confirmation at every turn, telegraphing his eventual “no” vote the day Jackson’s nomination was sent to the Senate, saying that he had “grave concerns” about her nomination. After Jackson’s confirmation hearings, Lee voted against sending her nomination to the full Senate while praising her qualifications for the job.
“She comes with some impressive qualifications, academically and professionally. She`s someone who has clerked at all three levels of the federal judiciary and, if confirmed, will have served at all three levels of the federal judiciary. It’s a significant and valuable experience. I will vote no,” Lee said.
Before Thursday’s final vote, Lee joined a handful of other Senate Republicans to voice his opposition to her confirmation again. Lee said he was troubled by the rush toward a final vote on Jackson’s nomination, noting it would be months before she would replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the Court. Lee also said he was troubled by what he characterized as a political approach to her rulings.
“Supreme Court Justices, we give them presumptive life tenure for a very important reason. With that comes some real responsibility to operate within the realm of the judicial branch. She’s exceeded that far too many times for my comfort,” Lee said.
President Joe Biden announced he would nominate Jackson to replace Breyer on Feb. 25. The final vote on her confirmation took place 41 days later. Former President Donald Trump’s nomination of now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett was shorter, just 30 days from nomination to a final confirmation vote, which Lee supported.
Lee was twice mentioned as a possible nominee for the Supreme Court during the Trump presidency. Some prominent conservatives wanted Trump to nominate Lee for the seat that eventually went to Justice Neil Gorsuch. Later, Cruz backed Lee as a candidate for the vacancy filled by Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Romney remained largely silent on Jackson’s confirmation after announcing earlier in the week he would support sending her to the Supreme Court.
“I have concluded she is a well-qualified jurist and a person of honor. While I do not expect to agree with every decision she may make on the Court, I believe she more than meets the standard of excellence and integrity,” Romney said in a statement explaining his support.
Romney’s decision to stray from the party line in opposition to Jackson earned him scorn from fellow Republicans. Donald Trump Jr. attacked Romney for being a “RINO” (Republican in name only). And right-wing commentator Benny Johnson said Romney should be recalled by Utah voters, even though there’s no legal pathway to recall a member of Congress.