Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Gives A History Lesson To Counter Alabama’s Attack On The Voting Rights Act

This is her first week on the high court.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s first week on the U.S. Supreme Court has already made headlines due to her masterful understanding and interpretation of the law.

The court heard arguments in Merrill v. Milligan, a congressional redistricting map case from Alabama involving packing of Black voters into a single congressional district that dilutes their voting power. This is a practice explicitly prohibited by Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Justice Jackson used the originalist argument–usually a conservative talking point–to prove the Reconstruction amendments were uniquely and precisely focused on race. This contradicts a widely held conservative argument that the Constitution is race-neutral.

During an exchange with Alabama Solicitor General Edmund LaCour, Jackson reminded LaCourt that the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments are explicit in their relation to race.

​​“When I drilled down to that level of analysis, it became clear to me that the framers themselves adopted the equal protection clause, the 14th Amendment, the 15th Amendment, in a race-conscious way.”

She explained the 14th Amendment was adopted during this time “to ensure that people who had been discriminated against, the freedmen, during the Reconstruction period, were actually brought equal to everyone else in society.”

Jackson continued, “I looked at the report that was submitted by the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, which drafted the 14th Amendment, and that report says that the entire point of the amendment was to secure rights of the freed former slaves.”

Justice Jackson quoted an 1866 speech by Republican Rep. Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, who was a strong proponent of civil rights for Black people” Unless the Constitution should restrain them, those states will all, I fear, keep up this discrimination and crush to death the hated freedmen.”

Jackson argued, “That’s not a race-neutral or race-blind idea, in terms of the remedy… It was drafted to give ... a constitutional foundation for a piece of legislation that was designed to make people who had less opportunity and less rights equal to white citizens.”

The newly instated Justice then said to Alabama’s solicitor general, “With that background, I’m trying to understand your position [on] Section 2, which by its plain text is doing that same thing. It’s saying: You need to identify people in this community who have less opportunity and less ability to participate and ensure that that’s remedied. It’s a race-conscious effort, as you have indicated. I’m trying to understand why that violates the 14th amendment given the history and background of the 14th Amendment.”

Listen to the clip of Jackson below:

RELATED: Ketanji Brown Jackson Makes History As First Black Woman Confirmed As U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Looking ahead to the high court’s term, the justices will also hear two affirmative action cases. They challenge the use of race in admissions at a public university (the University of North Carolina) and at a private university (Harvard).

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is the 116th justice to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

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