For Black law students, Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic Supreme Court nomination is personal

EXCLUSIVE: More than 100 Black law students have gathered for ‘Have Her Back’ rallies in D.C. to support Brown Jackson, who is on the precipice of making U.S. history.

US Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, meets with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), not pictured, in Graham's office in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on March 15, 2022. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

More than 100 Black law students and public defenders have descended in Washington, D.C. this week to rally in support of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as she undergoes a days-long Senate confirmation hearing process in hopes of becoming the nation’s first Black woman Supreme Court justice — and the first with a public defender background.

The group of law students and public defenders, convened by Demand Justice, National Black Student Law Association, and Black Public Defender Association, are participating in “Have Her Back” rallies in celebration of Jackson’s historic nomination outside the U.S. Capitol building, as well as watch parties nearby the hearings on Monday and Tuesday. 

For Black law students, the likely confirmation of Judge Jackson is one that draws pride and inspiration. Some of them who spoke with theGrio expressed what witnessing history in making means to them.

“This is really just to go and give her support and to show her that she is a role model to many law students, and even people who are not law students, and just showing that anything is possible,” Jasmine McMillion, a third-year law student at FAMU law school, told theGrio.

McMillion said it “means a lot” to be on the precipice of finally seeing a Black woman installed on the high court after 233 years.

“A lot of times in constitutional law class, we read the Supreme Court’s opinions and we always see a viewpoint from white males or white women or a Black male. We have yet to see an opinion from the viewpoint of a Black woman.”

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 2, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

It’s that representation that also inspired third-year law student Thomiah Dudley, who attends Judge Jackson’s alma mater, Harvard Law School.

Dudley told theGrio she’s missing classes in order to attend this week’s rallies in Washington, D.C. intended to uplift Jackson during this historic moment. 

“I emailed my professors and I explained what this moment really meant to someone like me to see someone who looks like me represented in a space like this, but also someone who has the power to really make good on the promises that were made in the Constitution to sort of restore a lot of the faith and trust that has been lost in the democracy in this country,” said Dudley.

“As law students, this is such a pivotal moment to be a part of. We learn the law as it is. But we also try to talk about the law as it should be. And this is very much that. And so I feel like this is such an invaluable experience, and I wasn’t going to miss it for the world.”

Dudley said this historic moment reminds her of another Black “first” in American politics — the election of the nation’s first Black President Barack Obama. 

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama delivers his acceptance speech at Democratic National Convention at Invesco Field in Denver. (Photo by Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images)

“I remember being in middle school at the time when then-President [elect] Obama was doing his acceptance speech and I had family members that traveled to go see it and hearing the stories about what it was like to be there to witness such a historical moment,” recalled Dudley. “It always just stuck with me. And so I now have this opportunity to have the same experience to be a part of history, but also be a part of legacy and the future.”

Similarly, Viky McDonald, a third-year student at Southern University Law Center, told theGrio she’s “excited” to see Judge Jackson take her place in American history.

“I feel that she’s more than accomplished and she has all the credentials to fill the seat. But most importantly, it showed me that the sky’s the limit,” said McDonald.

The Black law students who spoke to theGrio also shared that Jackson’s potential ascent to the Supreme Court also provides an opportunity to inject new life into the legal profession. 

Black law students participate in “Have Her Back” rally in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Courtesy of Demand Justice)

For Dudley and McMillion, having a Black woman join the ranks of the highest court that interprets the law breathes new life into what it means to practice law.

“As far as with the confirmation means to like the trajectory of my career, or how I look at the law in general, I will say it just restores my faith in the system. I think sometimes in law school with reading through the case law, it is so rigid and like so stuck in time,” said Dudley. 

“It’s really hard to push past that because one of the things that we talk about often at law school is what makes the law legitimate for a lot of people is the fact that it’s constant and having to really interrogate what we mean by constant — like we mean maintaining the status quo? And who does that really serve? 

She added, “I’m hoping that what we will see is that more people are starting to think critically about the law instead of just accepting what we’ve accepted over the years or this is the way things have to be.”

“The law can be boring,” said McMillion, “So, you know, it just makes it exciting that changes are happening within the law.”

Ultimately, the law students said their main objective with this week’s rallies is to let Judge Jackson know that through her likely ascent to the Supreme Court, she has inspired many and that there is a tribe of Black law students in her corner, cheering her on during this historic moment.

“I am very inspired by everything that she’s doing to see her walking into a role that she was once a law clerk for — it’s a full-circle moment. It’s awesome to see her hard labor finally is paying off,” said McDonald. “It’s also inspiring for law students like myself, for aspiring attorneys. And I would just say to keep going and keep pushing, keep breaking the barriers, keep opening the doors and keep paving the way for students like myself.”

Ketanji Brown Jackson
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, delivers remarks with U.S. President Joe Biden (L) and Vice President Kamala Harris during an event in the Cross Hall of the White House February 25, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

McMillion said the idea of a Black woman Supreme Court was “far-fetched” when she was a young Black girl. “It seemed nearly impossible,” she said, but now “it’s really incredible” to see this moment happen in real-time.

As a soon-to-be graduate of the law school where Judge Jackson walked the same halls as her at Harvard, Dudley said she’s excited about not only the change her confirmation would bring for her and this generation of law students but also “for my kids, my grandkids, so on and so forth.” 

“I think that it’s just opening up a totally new world and endless possibilities about what the law can really do and how one person or a few people can really make meaningful change in this society,” said Dudley. 

In a personal message to Jackson, she said, “We see you…we see ourselves in you, we see our children in you, we see our future. Whatever it takes, we are on the front lines for you. We’re in your corner.”

She added, “Thanks for paving the way for so many others.”

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