First Black Woman To Serve in SCOTUS: Ketanji Brown Jackson

By Linnette Cruz, 11th Grade

On February 25, 2022, American attorney and jurist Ketanji Brown Jackson made history by becoming the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court. Two months later on April 7, 2022, after a bipartisan group of senators voted 53-47 to advance her nomination, the nation is moved as they witness history in the making. The retirement of Associate Justice Stephen Breyer–after twenty-seven years of serving the American people–gave President Joe Biden the opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court Justice during his presidency, just as Donald Trump was given the chance to nominate and confirm conservative Amy Coney Barrett in October 2020 after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The appointment of a Supreme Court Justice is an extremely important event in American politics as the decisions made by SCOTUS have a large impact on the lives of citizens and set precedent for how future cases turn out. In its 233-year-old democracy, the United States had never seen a black woman serve on the Supreme Court, which is why this is such a remarkable moment of rejoicing for many Americans far and wide. 

Born in Washington, DC, Ketanji Brown Jackson attended public high school and graduated Harvard Law, working her way up to becoming a Supreme Court clerk and eventually federal appeals judge. Jackson’s previous public defender experience will also make her a very valuable asset to the Supreme Court as although she will not be able to sway the 6-3 conservative majority, her criminal justice knowledge will help the court combat the injustices that are committed on the daily and hopefully bring about change to the overwhelmingly imperfect system (White House, 2022). Prior to being a SCOTUS Judge nominee, Jackson served as a district judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and worked at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Ketanji Jackson will now join Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the high court, and Sonia Sotomayor, the first woman of color on the Supreme Court (Norwood, 2022). It is a breath of fresh air to finally be able to see an over-qualified SCOTUS Justice that will bring in her perspective and past experience into crucial decision-making.

During her confirmation hearings, Ketanji Jackson was asked some of the most absurd and unconventional questions that had nothing to do with her job as a potential Supreme Court Justice. Regardless of the chaos, Jackson maintained her everso calm demeanor and answered each question with respect and certainty. One of the most strident inquiries made towards the nominee was delivered by Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, who asked Jackson to provide a definition for the word ‘woman’. Knowing how controversial the topic of gender is in the US, Jackson replied that she was not a biologist and that her only job would be to interpret the law via the Constitution. As if it couldn’t get any more interesting, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas probed Jackson on a book that claims that racism is learned and not something we are born with called “Antiracist Baby”, wanting to know whether or not she “agreed with it”. Many argue that Ketanji Jackson’s confirmation hearings were a discredit to her persona and qualifications as the Senate asked Jackson questions that a white man–or even woman–would never be asked in her position. 

Along with the intense moments of chaos came the emotions of the grand impact Jackson’s confirmation would have on the country. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey expressed his admiration towards Judge Jackson as he tried to defuse the tension brought onto the nominee by his Republican constituents. More specifically, Booker warmed Jackson’s heart and even made her cry as he stated that she was “so much more than your race and gender. You’re a Christian, you’re a mom. Your intellect…You have earned this spot, you are worthy. You are a great American.” Booker encouraged Jackson to carry on and not let herself be dragged down by the Republicans who were trying to place obstacles in her way to the high court. 

Not only is Ketanji Jackson a newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice, but she is also the mother of her two daughters, Leila and Talia Jackson. A photo (pictured above) became the center of attention for the media as a photographer managed to capture the sweet moment of 17-year-old Leila admiring her mom with a face radiating pride during one of her hearings. Leila captured what many young women of color are feeling as they see Jackson become the first Black female Supreme Court Judge in US history. Stories like that of Ketanji Jackson have such a profound impact on little colored girls all over America because they can identify with her and aspire to become even greater. 

This confirmation is an extremely important cause for celebration because, just one year into his presidency, Biden has opened up a door for women to climb the political ladder by having Vice-President Kamala Harris become the first female, black, and Asian vice-president. For me personally, it is particularly moving because as a young woman of color who has always dreamed of having a career in politics, to see Harris and Jackson break the status quo and do what many once considered impossible creates a possibility for girls like me to do so in the future as well. This goes to show that representation does matter and that what may seem like small victories actually have large impacts on what it means to be a Black woman in present-day America. 


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