During the 2020 United States presidential campaign, President Joe Biden pledged to appoint a Black woman to the United States Supreme Court should there be a vacancy. Now, in 2022, this pledge may become a reality with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who has a track record that proves that she is both qualified and capable.
I applaud Judge Jackson on her grace under pressure, as Monday, March 21, 2022, marked the beginning of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The grind of the hearing process for Judge Jackson was magnified on Tuesday, March 22, with the beginning of what would become more than 20 hours of questioning from the committee, which ended Wednesday, March 23.
At the conclusion, the public may have been left with one final question: was this confirmation hearing really about Judge Jackson or was this confirmation hearing really political grandstanding?
Judge Jackson was repeatedly questioned regarding sentences she handed down in a select few child pornography cases. However, legal experts weighed in on this and found that the sentences she delivered, when compared to a bipartisan subsection of district judges, were in line with that of other judges. However, this was of no moment to committee members that continued this line of questioning.
Additionally, Judge Jackson’s work as a public defender was made to be an issue, in particular her work on cases for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The committee members attacking her work on these cases, did not care about basic principles of the criminal justice system such as, “innocent until proven guilty” and an accused right to counsel.
The attack on Judge Jackson had nothing to do with her qualifications, as her actions have unmistakably been in keeping with the actions of a great lawyer and judge. As an attorney her job was to zealously advocate for her clients. As a judge, her duty is to be neutral and apply the law to the facts. In both capacities, there is a duty to uphold and follow the law, which is exactly what her record shows she has done.
The constant attacks were nothing more than political propaganda for those committee members, putting topics on rewind and repeat to support their claims of being tough on crime and high on national security. Sadly, the attacks against Judge Jackson only affirmed for me the rights people are willing to trample in pursuit of what they believe is justice. The ideology behind the attacks such as the ones aimed against Judge Jackson is the very reason the justice system fails when it does. Justice is about doing what is right, not always about doing what is popular.
Judge Jackson was questioned extensively about critical race theory and responded that it doesn’t come up in her work as a judge. She consistently outlined her approach to cases that come before her court, all with an aim on remaining impartial and applying the law. However, committee members pressing this issue were not interested in her judicial competence and integrity. Clearly, this was nothing more than committee members using this platform to garner political support from people that have criticized critical race theory without even understanding what it actually is. Worse yet, they understand it, but want it erased because it shines light on the role race has played in framing the social institutions of America.
Judge Jackson was questioned regarding gay marriage, with opponents making it clear to their base that they remain opposed. She was asked to define the word woman, an opportunity for committee members to bring gender politics into the arena. She was questioned regarding court packing, a matter that is a policy issue for Congress. It was a free-for-all for political grandstanding.
At the end of the day, aside for the historical significance of her nomination, Judge Jackson remains an outstanding selection for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Established in 1789, with over 233 years of history, there have been 115 justices appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Of those 115 justices, 108 have been White males. Only two have been African American – the first being Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1967. Five have been women, the first being Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981. In 2009, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was appointed to the Court, becoming the third woman in the Court’s history, but the first woman of color—the first Hispanic, first Latina.
Black women are just as capable of shouldering the responsibilities bestowed upon the U.S. Supreme Court. Today’s America is drastically different than that of 1789, it is well past the time for our courts to reflect that difference in meaningful ways and this is yet another opportunity to do so.