Ketanji Brown Jackson will be a Supreme Court justice: It’s a time to reflect and rejoice
OPINION: Getting to this moment was difficult to watch as Republicans attempted to malign Judge Jackson's record. But now we can celebrate the first Black woman in the history of the United States to ascend to the high court.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Ketanji Brown Jackson has received the votes to become the next Supreme Court justice, ultimately replacing Justice Steven Breyer on the court, and will now have a job for life. A student recently asked me how I felt about a Black woman ascending to the highest court in the land for the first time in our nation’s history, and I had to pause before I responded.
The weight of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination and confirmation has left me feeling a mix of pride, elation, exhaustion, and a profound sense of injustice for what she endured during the confirmation hearings by Republican senators. There was and likely always will be a collective sense of PTSD for Black women who witnessed how the incredible accomplishments and intellect of Ketanji Brown Jackson were maligned and called into question. But the votes are in; Ketanji Brown Jackson will be the first Black woman in the history of the United States to be called justice. As I think of Ketanji Brown Jackson and what she has publicly endured on this road to becoming a justice, I have a few thoughts:
1. I trust Black women who have strong and dedicated Black female friends.
I have watched and rewatched the testimony of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s lifelong friend and colleague, Lisa Fairfax, and I am consistently filled with a deep level of pride and admiration for the ways Black women show up for one another. I think of the countless Black women who support one another in and outside the workplace, whether it’s a colleague who proofreads a paper or legal brief. The hairdresser who gives you words of encouragement you didn’t know you needed while she’s deep conditioning your hair and making you put on lip gloss and earrings before leaving the salon. The mentee who lets you know she appreciates all you’ve done while recognizing she doesn’t know half of what you’ve actually done to assist her and others on the path riddled with sexism, racism, and more. Or the service worker who gives you that extra smile, hug, or discount on your coffee because they are just proud to see a Black woman doing her thing.
2. I have been thinking of Constance Baker Motley and what she would think of this historic appointment to the Supreme Court.
Among her many accomplishments, Constance Baker Motley was the first African-American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court and the first to serve as a federal judge. Motley graduated from Columbia Law School in 1946, and 50 years later, Ketanji Brown Jackson graduated from Harvard Law School in 1996, cum laude, I should add.
Just as Constance Baker Motley once worked for Thurgood Marshall before he became the first African-American Supreme Court justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson once clerked for Justice Breyer during the early part of her career. We can only imagine what additional heights Constance Baker Motley could have attained if this country were not founded on the four pillars of white supremacy, anti-Black racism, patriarchy and capitalism, But it is clear Justice Jackson will carry a baton not accessible to Judge Motley during her time.
3. I am grateful for the work of Rep. Shirley Chisholm in this moment.
Most people know of Chisholm as the first African-American woman ever elected to the House of Representatives. Chisholm also ran for the presidency of the United States in 1972 with limited support. When African-American leaders gathered to put forward a Black leader for the presidency, Chisholm made it clear she was ready and able to serve. However, by “African-American candidate,” those leaders meant African-American male candidate.
Similarly, when women expressed a desire to put forth a candidate for the presidency in 1972, Chisholm once again stepped forward to say she was ready and willing to serve. However, by woman, most of those leaders meant a white woman as their candidate. The challenges Black women have experienced in the face of racism and sexism from within their own groups further solidifies the monumental accomplishment of Ketanji Brown Jackson as an intersectional justice who will serve as a descriptive representation of Black women who have served as the backbone of democracy in this nation for centuries.
4. We see you, Tim Scott.
Although Tim Scott admitted that Judge Jackson’s nomination was historic, he could not support a nominee with her record of “judicial activism.” Senator Scott serves as a reminder of the importance of remaining mindful of the diversity within Black Americans in the United States. Senator Scott and Justice Clarence Thomas (and most definitely Thomas’ wife Ginni) have consistently carried the water of the Republican Party’s unbridled conservatism and anti-Black policies and practices that have further calcified inequities that have been detrimental to Black families and communities.
Ketanji Brown Jackson will have to consistently navigate this tidal wave of racism even after she ascends to the bench. We must remain vigilant and call out how this justice will be treated even after she secures a job with a lifelong tenure.
5. Let us rejoice for one of the most qualified Supreme Court justices in our lifetimes.
When I think of how deftly and sagaciously Ketanji Brown Jackson handled her confirmation hearings and how she has conducted herself on the bench in previous positions, I am reminded that her future colleague Amy Coney Barrett could not even list the five freedoms protected by the first amendment. (Hint: the five freedoms are protections of speech, religion, press, assembly, and the right to petition the government. You now know more than a sitting Supreme Court justice.)
This softball question to Coney Barrett highlighted the sheer incompetence of someone who was elevated to the bench with an iota of the derision and denigration Ketanji Brown Jackson received. Not surprising, but shameful and disgusting nonetheless. However, the incompetence of others will not affect the joy I feel at seeing someone who is a brilliant legal mind ascend to the highest level of our judicial system.
I may not always agree with the decisions of President Joe Biden, but I do sincerely appreciate his commitment to making the leadership in this country more representative of some of the most loyal and faithful keepers of the Constitution—Black women. The road ahead will be long. The racist attacks against Ketanji Brown Jackson will surely not end once she is sworn into the bench. However, we can still rejoice, soak in what this means for people who grew up during the mid-20th-century civil rights era, and reflect on the sacrifices they and our grandparents and ancestors made to bring us all to this collective moment. There is always work to be done; disappoints will surely come, but today, in this moment, I will take the time to celebrate, rejoice, and be glad.
Christina Greer is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University, a political analyst at thegrio.com, and the author of “Black Ethnics.” Her research and teaching focus on American politics, black ethnic politics, urban politics, and campaigns and elections.
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