Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Welcome to the Supreme Court

Jackson will be the first Black woman and public defender to join the highest court in the land.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Welcome to the Supreme Court
Photo:Kevin Dietsch (Getty Images)

History was made this week as Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson officially became the first Black woman in history to be confirmed to the Supreme Court. She’ll be sworn in after Justice Stephen Breyer retires this summer.

Her appointment means that, for the first time in history, the majority of justices on the Supreme Court are not white men.

On Thursday afternoon, the Senate voted to confirm Jackson by a 53-47 margin. She secured the votes of all Senate Democrats, and even Senate Republicans Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski. Her nomination and confirmation are historic for a number of reasons, as she shatters a crucial race and gender barrier within the US government. She’s also the first public defender to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, as well as the first Justice nominated by a Democratic president in 12 years.

Vice President Kamala Harris, the first woman and Black woman to hold her office, presided over the Senate vote. The New York Times reports over two dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus also attended to listen to the final speeches and watch the historic vote.

Photo:Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

Over the course of Jackson’s six-week nomination process, she was subjected to an onslaught of predictable yet jarring attacks from both Republican Senators and conservative media. They deployed racist talking points and trotted out false narratives on her record on child sex abuse crimes. They also claimed she was purportedly “soft” on crime, without any evidence. Many Republican Senators said they valued the historical significance of Jackson’s nomination as a Black woman, but proceeded to ignore Jackson’s vast list of qualifications and accomplishments by voting in party line regardless.

Nonetheless, Senators like Cory Booker (D-NJ) have vocalized what a powerful and joyful moment Jackson’s confirmation presents.

“Her grace was evident from the jump, and I don’t think you can diminish that,” Booker, notably the only Black senator to participate in Jackson’s hearings, said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote. “Nothing can steal the joy of this moment.”

Booker is joined by progressive advocates and leaders across the country in celebrating Jackson’s confirmation.

“Judge Jackson is a breathtakingly qualified candidate to make this history,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson has said in a statement. Johnson continued:

“The unjust hurdles Black women like Ketanji Brown Jackson face each and every day were regrettably centerstage during her confirmation. But as Black women do, Ketanji Brown Jackson outshined the hate. Today and every day, we celebrate Black women.”

US Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) celebrated Jackson’s confirmation by telling her followers, “Watch your step, concrete ceiling just shattered. Congratulations to the Honorable SUPREME. COURT. JUSTICE. Ketanji Brown Jackson.”

The Black women-led reproductive justice collective SisterSong tweeted: “Today, we celebrate the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the US Supreme Court. On this day, we think of how much this will mean to little Black girls who will see this news & know what we already knew – BLACK WOMEN CAN DO ANYTHING. And we are amazing!”

The criminal justice reform organization Vera Institute praised Jackson’s confirmation for advancing “diverse and marginalized perspectives to the forefront of our government bodies.”

Jackson formerly clerked for Justice Breyer, and went on to work as a public defender who served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. She currently serves as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Jackson has received support from advocates and organizations ranging from the Innocence Project to NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The addition of a Black woman to the Supreme Court is especially important considering the court’s long, devastating history of decisions rooted in interwoven racism and misogyny, particularly targeting Black women. President Biden announced Jackson as his pick to replace Justice Breyer at the end of February in honor of Black History Month, fulfilling his promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court on the campaign trail.

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