Standing as the first Black woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court in a long-spanning history of 233 years, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson signals a long overdue step forward.
The power of the Supreme Court cannot be understated. In addition to the Court’s ability to make life-altering decisions, confirmed Justices are appointed with ‘lifetime tenure’ allowing them to serve until retirement, death, or impeachment. Meaning that if we assume Judge Brown were to be confirmed this year and serve as long as her predecessor, Justice Breyer, she would be on the bench up until 2050. Thus providing Judge Jackson the opportunity to impact the Court’s ideological balance for decades and offer her legal opinion over the course of more than half a dozen Presidential terms.
With great power to influence and (literally) rule over the future of American society, there is a responsibility for Congress to thoroughly assess the qualifications and competency of nominees before confirming them. However, as many news outlets, former colleagues, admirers, and legal experts have highlighted, Judge Jackson has an abundance of both.
Yet despite her exhaustively impressive background, we are aware the confirmation process and subsequent reactions to the process are likely to provide a front-stage platform for misogynoir. However, as a Black woman in America who has already achieved much success, Judge Jackson is familiar with facing and exceeding high expectations and external doubt.
I nonetheless believe it is essential to distinguish what exactly Judge Jackson is “the first” for: she is not the first Black woman qualified to do the job, but she is the first Black woman with the opportunity to do the job. Black women have been earning law degrees in America since Charlotte E. Ray graduated from Howard Law in 1872 — and even amongst Jackson’s own peers, there were several highly successful Black women for the White House to consider.
It is also important to note that Judge Jackson has historically-distinguishing qualities beyond her identities. She brings with her many real-life experiences and perspectives that have never been offered a seat on the highest court of the land — she is the daughter of two HBCU graduates, a worthy recipient of bipartisan support for her previous judicial confirmations, and, most importantly, in a country where 80% of lower income residents cannot afford legal services, Judge Jackson will be the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.
Judge Jackson’s nomination is powerful both practically and symbolically. She has the necessary experience to be a crucial legal voice of opinion during these volatile times, and she has the background of resilience and excellence that is reflective of our country. The process to confirm Judge Jackson will not be easy, but together we can help make it successful. Students can contribute to that success by calling their home-state senator, showing their public support, and fighting mis/disinformation online.
There is no greater time than now to show our fervent commitment to creating a better, more representative, more equitable future. While the Supreme Court (and courts in general) are not the only contributing factor affecting that future, recent history and previous eras have proven they are a substantial one.
As a Black woman approaching the beginning of my own legal career, I have found solace in the fact that Judge Jackson has already begun to undoubtedly inspire a new generation of to see ourselves as boundless, unrestricted, and capable of changing the world — and that is an accomplishment of a lifetime in and of itself.
In Truth and Service,
61st Howard University Student Association Executive President