For the first time in 232 years, Ketanji Brown Jackson made history as the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
The Senate approved her position on April 7th as the 115th justice on the Supreme Court. The votes were 53-47 with the Democratic party and three Republicans who approved the nomination and officially welcomed Judge Jackson into the Court.
This is in fact a huge breakthrough for the United States of America, but in truth, it is tragic how she is only recently the first black woman to become a Supreme Court justice—not the second or the third, but the first in American history.
Ketanji Brown Jackson was born on September 14, 1970, in Washington D.C. She majored in government while she studied at Harvard-Radcliffe College.. She graduated with an A.B magna cum laude in 1992, basically meaning she placed in the top 5 percent to 15 percent of her class. She then graduated from Harvard Law School with a J.D. cum laude, meaning she Following her graduation, she became a district judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia from 2013 to 2021.
Subsequently, on February 25, 2022, President Joe Biden nominated Jackson to be an associate justice on the Supreme Court following Stephen Breyer’s retirement. Despite the 115 past judges of the Supreme Court, none of them were black women. So, Jackson’s nomination became a big deal in America’s history.
Regardless during Jackson’s election process — a turning point in America’s history, many Republicans were outright against her. The vote for Jackson had 47 republicans out of 50 voting against her.
Back in 1967, Thurgood Marshall, the first Black man to be nominated into the Court, faced Republican senators aggressively asking him about his thoughts on crime in American cities. During her session, Jackson was not asked questions regarding her capability or any requirements regarding being a justice of the Supreme Court. Much like Marshall, she was asked questions about how she deals with American crime. Their stance on it was that working with people who were convicted of a crime is harmful.
Jackson had to face attacks of all sorts from the Republicans aiming to deny her entry into the Court. During the 12-hour hearing, she had to face attacks making outrageous statements about her.
They claimed that she called former president George W. Bush and former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld war criminals, referring to her work on a Guantánamo Bay prisoner case. One of the main senators attacking Jackson was Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Once a supporter of Jackson, he now decided that she was unfit for the role and voted against her. His reasoning for it was that she was an “activist judge” avoiding the law in order to acquire the results she desires.
“She’s a judicial activist; she gets outcomes she wants no matter how the law is written; [and] when it comes to crime, her record is very, very dangerous,” Graham said. “That doesn’t work with me.”
Graham was especially criticized for asking Jackson ridiculous questions regarding her religious beliefs. Noting that this was her confirmation hearing and not a silly debate, these questions were extremely outrageous. After Jackson claimed that she was a non-denominational Protestant during the second day of her hearing, Graham questioned if she could judge a Catholic fairly.
“Uh, on a scale of 1 to 10, how faithful would you say you are in terms of religion?” he asked Jackson. Many criticized this for being one of the most preposterous questions being asked in Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
Additionally, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri aggressively bombarded Jackson with questions regarding her stance on child exploitation cases. He accused Jackson of giving child sex offenders much more lenient sentences than what they deserved. His claims were later debunked by multiple news organizations. Jackson indeed did follow common penalties and consequences given to child sex offenders, proving Hawley’s statements to be false.
Moreover, many Republican senators claimed that even though Jackson’s credentials check out, her judicial philosophy, her past record in child exploitation cases and other reasons make her unfit for the role.
Judicial philosophy is the certain beliefs of a judge or a justice. Jackson’s philosophy is her judicial methodology to be neutral and to take all the facts into account. Many republicans were under the impression that this idea of hers was problematic. They thought this because she did not include “originalism” or “texualism” in her answer. Originalism is defined as the interpretation of the Consitution’s purpose as it should have been interpreted at the time it was written. Textualism refers to the strict conformance of the Constitution’s rules of how it is written in plain text. These two aspects are narrow-minded opinions valued by many conservative lawyers.
Republican senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, mentioned that he would not support Jackson due to her judicial philosophy.
“Although she explained originalism and textualism in some detail to the committee, Judge Jackson refused to embrace them or any other precise system of limits on the judicial role,” Sasse mentioned. He continues to state how she implied that originalism was simply a tool judges use and not “a genuine constraint on judicial power.”
Republicans also attributed their disapproval of Jackson due to her refusal to speak out about court-packing. Court-packing is the effort to add more judges to the Court than there is now. Unlike late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jackson did not outright denounce court-packing.
“It is a policy question for Congress and I am particularly mindful of not speaking to policy issues because I am so committed to staying in my lane of the system,” Jackson said in response to Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana.
Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina was dissatisfied with Jackson’s response, saying that she was “reluctant to take a firm public stand” against court-packing.
Regardless of these bitter attacks made by disapproving Republican senators, there were three Republicans voting in approval of Jackson. These three were Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.
During the White House ceremony following Jackson’s approval, Jackson spoke about her feelings regarding being the first black woman to be a judge on the Supreme Court.
“I am humbled and honored to continue in this fashion as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, working with brilliant colleagues, supporting and defending the Constitution and steadfastly upholding the rule of law,” Jackson said. “It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it. We’ve made it. All of us.”
Before Jackson’s speech, Biden addressed the crowd at the White House celebration. He mentioned that Jackson’s approval to the Court was a “moment of real change in American history.”
Even though it is unfortunate that it took this long for such a progressed nation to finally show some diversity in the government’s courts, Judge Jackson’s new role as the associate judge of the Supreme Court marks an important breakthrough for the United States of America. It sends a message to all the aspiring young leaders in future generations that they too, can make a difference.