First Black Female Justice- Ketanji Brown Pioneering the Historic Triumph in US Supreme Court
President Joe Biden announced in late February that a Black woman would be nominated to the Supreme Court for the first time in US history. Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic triumph as the first Black female Supreme Court justice may overshadow the reality that she is also eminently suited to serve on the highest court.
Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former public defender and judge on the influential Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, had long been rumoured as a top candidate in the event of a high court retirement or vacancy. She possessed many of the sitting justice’s sterling credentials, including an Ivy League law degree and a federal judgeship and her groundbreaking nomination energised Democrats at a time when some of the party’s most ambitious legislative proposals had failed.
The fact that a Black female Supreme Court judge has been long overdue reflects the slow progress that the United States has made toward racial and gender equality.
While Democrats sought a bipartisan vote on Jackson’s nomination, many Republicans who are fighting over the confirmation of previous conservative nominees used last month’s hearings to highlight the country’s fault lines.
Throughout the investigation of Jackson’s record, many Judiciary Committee Republicans used race, criminal justice, and gender dynamics as a stick to knock Jackson off balance, despite her largely positive reception from the American public.
Democrats have confirmed federal judges at a rapid pace since Biden took office last year, hoping to make up for past mistakes in shaping the judicial system. According to data from the Federal Judicial Center, roughly 67% of the president’s confirmed federal judicial nominees have been nonwhite with 31% of all confirmed nominees being Black.
For Democrats, Jackson’s nomination was supposed to be the culmination of Biden’s efforts to appoint the first Black female jurist to the Supreme Court without the sharp polarisation of previous hearings. That did not come to fruition.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham used his questioning time to criticise Jackson’s record on sentencing for child pornography offenders, which many Republicans claimed was too lenient as she imposed sentences that were lighter than the federal guidelines in several cases. Fact-checkers and legal experts debunked the claims, claiming they lacked key context and data demonstrating that Jackson’s behaviour was within the norm and the guidelines were out of date.
Graham warned Democrats shortly before Jackson’s full Judiciary Committee vote that if Republicans controlled the Senate, she would not have received a hearing, citing the need for a more “moderate” candidate. Senate Minority leader McConnell has remained silent on whether he would even consider a future Biden Supreme Court nominee in a Republican-controlled Senate.
However Republicans have their own list of complaints about how Democrats have abused the process, dating back to when Democrats controlled the Senate in 1987 and blocked Ronald Reagan’s nominee, the late conservative judge and scholar Robert Bork.
During Jackson’s three-day confirmation hearing, she was subjected to a barrage of questions. She was frequently interrupted as she defended her previous representation of alleged terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as a public defender, as well as a few sentences she handed down as a federal judge in child pornography possession cases referred above. For them, “it is not just about Jackson’s reputation, which has been repeatedly tarnished by Republican senators peddling false narratives about her alleged coddling of child pornographers and terrorists, it is about the Senate’s legacy and the Supreme Court’s future.”
Jackson was confirmed by a vote of 53–47, with the support of all 50 Senate Democrats and three Republicans — Maine Senator Susan Collins, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Utah Senator Mitt Romney. She was not a controversial nominee, but three Republican votes were seen as a breakthrough in the current political climate.
Jackson is the first former criminal defence attorney to be nominated to the Supreme Court since Marshall. As a result of this, Jackson seems to be in an unusual position on the bench. As a public defender “it will help Jackson understand the very real human toll of the criminal justice system in the United States”.
A new justice means there’s a new court, even if the ideological balance doesn’t necessarily shift. This is a really interesting time to watch the Supreme Court, because the majority on the court right now is willing to question things that seemed like they were settled for a long time.
There can be endless questions and debates about Jackson’s win but it was her merits and passion which made her the first ever Black Woman Judge in the Supreme Court.