Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By Robert J. Walker

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) missed his “Profile in Courage” opportunity when he did not vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. This vote should have been a no-brainer for Scott. Being the only African-American republican senator and considering the historical significance of the moment—you would think he would have had the courage to be on the right side of history. 

Scott’s African-American parents divorced when he was seven and his older brother, Ben Scott Jr., was nine. He grew up in working-class poverty. He was raised by his mother who worked 16 hours a day as a nursing assistant to support him and his brother. 

During the third day of Jackson’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Cory Booker in a passionate speech said to her, “It’s hard for me not to look at you and not see my mom, not to see my cousins … I see my ancestors and yours. . . Nobody’s gonna steal that joy . . . Nobody’s taking this away from me.”

Scott has said that even though he has the privilege of serving as a United States senator, as an African American he still faces harassment from those who are not aware of who he is.   After witnessing the indignity that Jackson suffered from fellow Republican senators during her confirmation hearing, one would think that Scott would have seen his mother in Judge Jackson; all the indignities his mother had to suffer through as a black woman working 16 hours a day in a hospital as a nursing assistant at the bedside of racist white people in the deep south as she suffered indignities from Senators Graham, Cruz, and Hawley during her confirmation hearing. Or perhaps he would have seen his Granny, or his aunt who helped buy Christmas presents when his family couldn’t afford them.

Scott did not have to announce his vote in advance as Mitt Romney and Susan Collen did. He could have shocked the political world by voting for her on the day that the full Senate voted. Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham gave him a good alibi that he could have used for his vote. If anyone had questioned why he voted against her nomination to the United States Court of Appeals and now voted to appoint her to the Supreme Court, Tim Scott could have stated that Mitt Romney voted against her to the United States Court of Appeals and then voted for her to the U.S. Supreme Court. And Lindsey Graham did the exact opposite. Lindsey Graham voted for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Court of Appeals and then voted against her appointment to the Supreme Court. Scott could have said, “We all have the option of changing our vote on each appointment.” 

Scott could have also pointed out that he voted to approve all three of former President Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court (Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett) and that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was more qualified than all of them.

In a 2018 interview with Politico Magazine, Scott said that his primary concern was caring for his mother. “As a poor kid growing up, the most important thing for me to do was take care of my mom.”  Perhaps Scott, like Sen. Booker did see his mother in Ketanji Brown Jackson. But, Senator Scott made a political calculation. He is up for reelection this November 2022. He lacked a profile in courage because his reelection is this November. If his reelection date was in 2026 (as his fellow Senator Lindsey Graham), chances are Scott would have voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. 

Scott did not have the courage displayed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.  Murkowski was one of the three republican senators, along with Susan Collins of Maine, and Mitt Romney of Utah, who voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. Murkowski, like Scott, is also up for reelection this year.  Donald Trump is out to get Murkowski because she voted to convict him in his second impeachment trial. Therefore, voting to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court is a greater political risk to Murkowski than it would have been for Scott. But, perhaps Scott did not follow Murkowski’s example because he believed that the Republican voters of Alaska would be more forgiving of Murkowski voting to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court than the white southern Republican voters of South Carolina would be towards him had he, a black man, voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

Had the republican senators been fair and honest, they all would have voted to confirm Jackson to the Supreme Court. But, Scott, based on his emotional and vicarious connection to Jackson via his mother, Granny, aunt, and his own personal experiences as a Black man should have transcended his loyalty to the Republican Party. Perhaps getting reelected means more to Scott than being on the right side of history.

About the Author:
Robert J. Walker is a retired educator and freelance writer. He is the author of Jesus Was A Liberal: How Republicans and Evangelicals Made Conservatism a Religion.

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