Jurist secures seat as first black woman on Supreme Court

Elisabeth Siegel

n April 7, the halls of the Capitol were filled with cheers from many senators, staff and visitors, while some were seen quickly exiting the Senate chamber. The Senate had confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination as the 116th Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. This 53 to 47 vote will make Jackson the first black woman to be on the highest court following Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s retirement this summer.

Jackson’s confirmation marks a milestone in American history and has inspired many. President Joe Biden said during his 2020 presidential campaign that he would be committed to nominating a Black woman to the bench.

“Ronald Reagan said, ‘I’m going to appoint a woman,’ LBJ said he was going to replace a black male justice with another black male justice,” upper school history teacher Claire Mrozek said. “I think that the Court has a responsibility to be representative… I personally think that race is one of several things that need to be brought into the conversation when you’re making decisions about who gets a position. It shouldn’t be the number one consideration, but it should be one of the things that you bring in.”

Along with bringing representation to the Court, many consider her one of the most qualified Supreme Court nominees in recent history. She has served as a public defender and clerked for Breyer from 1999 to 2000. She was also confirmed to the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the D.C. Circuit court.

“Not only is she qualified, like beyond qualified, [but she’s also] just such an important part of this representation that we’re trying to see,” junior Bridget Wang said. “By getting more people of color into higher offices, it just represents America more accurately. I remember getting that email from the New York Times’ breaking news. I have not deleted that email. I’m so thrilled about it.”

This decision will not change the ideological balance of the Court; it contains six justices appointed by conservative presidents and justices appointed by liberal presidents, one of the latter being Breyer. Though Jackson was appointed by a liberal president, the Supreme Court is bipartisan and Jackson pledged to proceed with a position of neutrality “without fear or favor” on the first day of her Senate confirmation hearings. Three GOP senators, Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, crossed party lines and voted alongside Democrats to confirm her.

“After reviewing Judge Jackson’s record and testimony, I have concluded that she is a well-qualified jurist and a person of honor,” Romney said on Romney.Senate.gov on April 4 in a statement explaining his vote.

 “While I do not expect to agree with every decision she may make on the Court, I believe that she more than meets the standard of excellence and integrity.”

Still, at her confirmation hearings in March, Jackson faced GOP questioning on her views about critical race theory, rising crime, expansion of the Supreme Court and her rulings for child abuse cases in 2013 and Guatánamo Bay detainees in 2005.

“I am horrified by what has happened with the Supreme Court in the last few years,” Mrozek said. “It historically has been a conversation about the justice’s qualifications, whether the individual has enough experience, [or if] there are any sort of limitations or liabilities with the individual. Generally speaking, the voting has been bipartisan until [recently]. You have Republican senators who voted for Judge Ketanji Brown when she was coming up for an early federal courtship and then they vote against her. I don’t understand how that really can come into your thinking when it’s really supposed to if this individual is qualified or not.”

Jackson conveyed that her label cannot be defined by a simple philosophy, but some Republicans, like Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, opposed this neutrality and wished she would embrace “originalism” and “textualism” more than she does. Originalism requires judges to enforce the words of the Constitution how it was understood at the time of ratification and textualism requires judges to apply the actual words of statute; both theories are popular among conservative activists and lawyers.

“I believe that it is appropriate to look at the original intent, original public meaning of the words,” Jackson said at her confirmation hearings. “It’s a process of understanding what the core foundational principles are in the Constitution, as captured by the text, as originally intended, and then applying those principles to modern-day.”

Not only is she qualified, like beyond, [but she’s also] just such an important part of the this representation that we’re trying to see.

Bridget Wang

At Jackson’s nomination hearing, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey took a moment to defend the nominee after many questions were raised against her by the GOP. The emotional speech brought Jackson to tears as he called her “worthy” and referenced Harriet Tubman, a black woman born into slavery who escaped and helped others gain their freedom.

“I watched [the speech] in a school club, and I cried,” Wang said. “It was so beautiful. It was something so true, and you could tell he was just so passionate about it. And the way he spoke was so moving and so emotionally connected to past, present and future generations of people of color.”

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