OPINION: Changing the Chemistry of Justice By Elevating Women Like Ketanji Brown Jackson

Although women have made great strides in the judicial field, there is still more work to do, and it’s being done.

Over the years, we’ve often quoted a line from French writer Alexis DeTocqueville’s two volume work Democracy in America: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults”

But even more remarkable than the quote itself is the fact that Tocqueville, an aristocrat whose parents had been jailed in the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, developed his opinion while visiting the United States and studying our prisons.

We doubt that 187 years later, Tocqueville would recognize our nation. But, while we continue to strive toward the more perfect union imagined in our Constitution’s preamble, the work is far from complete…particularly when it comes to justice and those we call upon to ensure its fair application in the courtroom.

Yes, we’ve come a long way since Genevieve Rose Cline was appointed to the U.S. Customs Court in 1928 becoming the first woman named to the federal bench.

We’ve come a long way since Florence Allen became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1934; since Burnita Shelton Matthews became the first woman to serve as a U.S. District Court judge in 1949; or Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court in 1981.

Certainly, we’re not where we were. But we’re not where we need to be either. But, as is often said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and in this instance we have taken several.

So, when President Biden nominated federal appeals judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court last month, he wasn’t just making history as the first president to nominate Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.

He was taking another critical step in securing the promise of equal justice for all Americans. Consider the following.

More than half of all the people in America are women. Nearly 40 percent of those are women of color. That means that women of color make up roughly 20 percent of America’s population. The 10.7 million Black women in the labor force in 2018, represented 53 percent of the total Black labor force.

There have been 3,843 people to serve as federal judges in the United States, and only 70 have been Black women. That’s less than two percent! Does that sound like justice to you?

No, it doesn’t and President Biden is doing something about it. He has nominated eight black women to the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals, surpassing all other previous presidents combined.

In fact, Biden has nominated 11 Black women to the federal bench, more than all but two previous administrations. The two who did more were President Clinton, who appointed 26, and President Obama, who appointed 15. Of course, they each did that over eight years. President Biden did it in one.

LIVE BLOG: Ketanji Brown Jackson Senate Confirmation Hearing Day 2
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But this is about more than keeping score on some presidential bingo card. This is about fundamentally changing the chemistry of our American experiment in a way that not only works to resolve past injustice but charts a clear vision for the future. It’s about imagining an America that can look at a 10-year-old Black girl reciting our national pledge with her hand over her heart and say that “Liberty and Justice for all is more than a credo. It’s a promise to all Americans - a promise we intend to keep.”

After all, little girls with dreams grow up to be women with vision. We’d all do well to celebrate this Women’s History Month giving full meaning to “liberty and justice for all.”

South Carolina Rep. James E. Clyburn is the Democratic majority whip. Follow him on Twitter: @WhipClyburn. Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, and a CBS News political contributor. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.

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