OPINION | Ketanji Brown Jackson: How Her Confirmation Will Make The Supreme Court Mirror The Colorful Tapestry That Makes Us America
In the 223-year history of our country, 115 justices have graced the United States Supreme Court. Of these jurists, like the rest of our U.S. judicial system, the vast majority of them have not included people of color.
Indeed, our Supreme Court is currently made up of seven white Justices; five are men. And of the three women Justices, only one represents an underrepresented minority group. There is only one current Black Justice on the Supreme Court. Before January 25, 2022, only two African Americans have been successfully nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court, but neither was an African American woman as no Black woman has ever been selected to sit on the High Court—until now. President Joe Biden made America a promise to appoint the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, and he has made good on that promise with the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
As a judge myself, I recognize the critical role our judiciary plays in society in general which is why I understand that judicial diversity is of critical importance. Judges are charged with making decisions that not only affect the litigants before them but can have lasting impacts on our nation’s history for decades and even generations to come and that includes the decisions made by the United States Supreme Court. The Biden Administration’s admirable selection of Judge Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to the Supreme Court is necessary to ensure that our nation’s premier Court begins to mirror the colorful tapestry that makes up this country.
I am elated with President Biden’s selection of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Her nomination is epic not just within Black history but as part of American history. I know firsthand that courtrooms benefit from juror and judicial diversity, so I can’t help but be proud of Judge Brown Jackson’s nomination, which she has undoubtedly earned.
This nomination also comes on the heels of President Biden and his administration’s unprecedented appointments of Black women judges to federal appellate courts. Indeed, Judge Brown Jackson’s nomination has already sent a powerful message to Black girls and women everywhere that they can in fact excel at the highest levels of excellence, and her confirmation will only propel that message into inspiration for more girls and women throughout our country.
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The journey of becoming an extraordinary lawyer for Black women in America is daunting and requires our acknowledgment. As the President of the National Bar Association— the oldest and largest organization of Black lawyers, judges, and law students worldwide—I am surrounded by exemplary Black women attorneys and legal professionals who face a constant uphill battle in their professional careers despite their glowing credentials. Black women face the negatives of both race and gender and are challenged to carefully navigate them every day within their careers and personal lives. Their positive traits, such as confidence or passion, are often distorted as anger or intimidation by their colleagues and superiors. In addition to excelling professionally, they also wear countless hats and assume essential roles and responsibilities as wives, mothers, caregivers, teachers, professionals, mentors, among many others.
Judge Brown Jackson has excelled and acquired unmatched qualifications despite the countless challenges she has had to face. Throughout her career, she has demonstrated the fortitude, ethics, and commitment to service that makes her exceptionally qualified and undeniably suitable as a jurist. Brown Jackson is a fitting choice as a former judicial law clerk to the retiring Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Stephen Breyer, whom she is nominated to replace. Jackson’s vast experience includes serving as a federal appellate judge, a federal district court judge, the Vice Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an attorney in private practice, and a federal public defender. Additionally, the Senate has previously confirmed Jackson on a bipartisan basis several times – most recently last year for her current seat on the D.C. Circuit.
Brown Jackson’s exemplary career and nomination confirm what we already knew—Black women are qualified to sit on our nation’s Supreme Court. Throughout the history of the National Bar Association, we have firsthand experience with numerous Black women legal professionals across the country who consistently excel, operate with the utmost integrity and ethical standards, and exceed expectations. Now, through the nomination and confirmation of Judge Brown Jackson, the world can recognize that excellence for what it really is—Black excellence.
The nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson means more than simply altering the racial demographics of the Court. It inspires further confidence that the decisions and deliberations that often lead to some of the most critical opinions affecting the American public will now have a more balanced approach and diverse perspective. Notably, none of the sitting Supreme Court justices have represented criminal defendants or served as public defenders. Judge Jackson would make history as the first federal public defender to grace the bench, and her confirmation would bring a critical point-of-view to the Court. The Supreme Court regularly hears and decides cases wherein the fate of convicted criminals weighs in the balance. Judge Brown Jackson would bring a level of empathy from her criminal defense background that, quite frankly, the other Justices lack.
Today, we celebrate this historic nomination of a woman whose stellar background and legal career are unquestionable and a worthy of an unanimous confirmation from the U.S. Senate. However, we know this historic appointment will face its challenges, and she will face unwarranted attacks on her character, career, and personal life. Unfortunately, this is nothing new to Black women in America, who are often subject to attacks despite their talent and resolve. Judge Brown Jackson is a fitting choice for the Supreme Court, and we call upon the members of the U.S. Senate to give her a fair and civil confirmation hearing.
Finally, we must salute Justice Breyer on his exemplary service to the judiciary and our nation for the last 28 years. He used his position on the bench to champion objectives to advance fair housing initiatives, voter protection, and criminal justice reform. Upon her confirmation, I am confident Judge Brown Jackson will honor the legacy of her predecessor and carry out justice on the bench with a multitude of grace and fortitude.
The National Bar Association (“NBA”) was founded in 1925 and is the nation’s oldest and largest national network of predominantly African American attorneys and judges. It represents the interests of approximately 67,000 black lawyers, judges, law professors, and law students. The NBA is organized around 23 substantive law sections, 10 divisions, 12 regions, and over 80 affiliate chapters throughout the United States and around the world. For more information, visit: www.nationalbar.org.