Senate Confirms Ketanji Brown Jackson to Be the First Black Woman Justice on the Supreme Court

"She's still pinching herself that this moment is actually her moment," an adviser tells PEOPLE

The Senate voted Thursday to confirm President Joe Biden's lifetime appointment of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

Once Jackson takes the oath of office this summer, she will become the first Black woman justice, fulfilling a campaign promise that Biden made during the 2020 presidential election.

Fifty-three senators voted to approve Jackson for a seat on the court left open by retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, while 47 voted against confirming her as a giddy Kamala Harris — the first Black woman elected vice president of the U.S. — presided over the Senate proceedings.

The Senate chamber erupted in applause once Harris said, "This nomination is confirmed."

For more on Ketanji Brown Jackson's historic confirmation, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

Before making his selection, Biden said it would not be based on ideology and predicted his nominee would get at least one Republican vote.

In the end, there were three: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah joined 50 Democrats to pave the way for Jackson to be seated on the country's highest court despite widespread GOP opposition, in particular to Jackson's record as a defense attorney and sentencing judge.

Their vote in favor of the historic confirmation prevented a 50-50 split, which would have required a tie-breaking vote by the vice president — a scenario that remains unprecedented in seating a Supreme Court justice. In modern history, only one justice has been confirmed without bipartisan support: Amy Coney Barrett, who was nominated by Donald Trump in the waning days of his administration.

Jackson, 51, watched the vote with Biden at the White House, Minyon Moore, an adviser who was part of the team assisting her through the process of getting confirmed, told PEOPLE in a phone interview Thursday.

"She was excited to be in the Roosevelt Room of the White House," said Moore, who was with them Thursday watching the vote on television. "She was excited to see the president when he came in the door. She's still pinching herself that this moment is actually her moment ... She was taking pictures of vote."

Jackson and the president also took a selfie in what Moore said was an "organic" moment that "just kind of happened."

Asked what the president told Jackson on Thursday as they watched the vote, Moore revealed to PEOPLE, "He said he was proud of her. He was proud of how she handled the hearings. You could just see that he was just simply very, very proud."

Jackson's family was not in the room. Her husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, was in surgery Thursday but received a phone call from President Biden, Moore said.

"It was so lovely to see how he was how she was smiling as he was talking to Dr. Jackson," Moore told PEOPLE, adding that they were reading texts her children as the votes came in.

Ahead of the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called Jackson "brilliant" and "one of the most experienced individuals ever nominated to the Supreme Court."

He also acknowledged that history took place in the crowded chamber on Thursday. "By confirming Judge Jackson today we are taking a bold step forward toward reaching the full realization of our country's promise," he 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," he continued, calling the milestone a "giant bold and important step on the well-trodden path to fulfill our country's founding promise."

"This is a great moment for Judge Jackson," he also said, "but it is an even greater moment for America."

Jackson, a Florida native whose parents attended segregated schools, acknowledged the historic nature of her appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the second day of the hearings when she was questioned by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

"I am here standing on the shoulders of generations of Americans who never had anything close to this kind of opportunity," Jackson said, appearing emotional but composed. "This nomination is significant to a lot of people, and I hope that it will bring confidence, it will help inspire people to understand that our courts are like them, that our judges are like them. Doing the work, being part of our government: I think it's very important."

Ketanji Brown Jackson
Ketanji Brown Jackson. Tom Williams/AP/Shutterstock

Jackson currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Republicans Sens. Murkowski, Collins and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina all voted to confirm her to that role in 2021.

During the Senate Judiciary Committee's sometimes fraught confirmation hearings for Jackson, Graham questioned the nominee about her record on sentencing in child pornography cases, her legal arguments in defending accused enemy combatants detained by the U.S. at a naval base in Guantanamo Bay and other topics.

He even invoked the name of his preferred nominee, saying, "The fact that so many of these left wing radical groups that would destroy the law as we know it declared war on Michelle Childs and supported you is problematic for me."

Also during the hearings, Graham used his allotted time to probe Jackson's views and record of experience to air still-simmering grievances about the confirmations of Trump-nominated Justices Barrett Brett Kavanaugh. At one point, referencing Barrett's hearings, he asked Jackson, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are, in terms of religion?"

Other Republican senators on the committee found time to bring up perennial hot-button political issues like abortion, transgender rights and critical race theory.

When Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee asked Jackson to provide a definition for the word "woman," the nominee replied by saying, "I'm not a biologist."

The answer, Blackburn said, "underscores the dangers of the kind of progressive education that we are hearing about."

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas held up a copy of the children's book Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi and asked Jackson, "Do you agree with this book that is being taught to kids that babies are racist?"

"I do not believe that any child should be made to feel as though they are racist or though they are not valued or though they are less than, that they are victims, that they're oppressors," Jackson said. "I don't believe in any of that."

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
Ketanji Brown Jackson. Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty

The questioning was also, at times, heartwarming in that it reflected the hope, celebration and pride of breaking down a racial barrier.

As members of her family — including her teenage daughter Leila Jackson, who was photographed beaming with pride at her mother on the first day of the hearings — sat behind her, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey praised Jackson for how she handled combative questions from some of his colleagues.

"You faced insults here that were shocking to me — well, actually not shocking," Booker said. "But you are here because of that kind of love, and nobody is taking that away from me."

"I want to tell you, when I look at you, this is why I get emotional," he added. "I'm sorry, you're a person that is so much more than your race and gender. You're a Christian. You're a mom. It's hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom… I see my ancestors and yours."

Booker repeatedly expressed the "joy" he felt by Jackson's accomplishments, calling her his "star" and "harbinger of hope."

"You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American," he noted as Jackson wiped her tears with a tissue.

"This country gets better and better and better," Booker said. "When that final vote happens, and you ascend onto the highest court in the land, I'm going to rejoice. And I'm going to tell you right now, the greatest country in the world, the United States of America, will be better because of you."

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