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Confirmation Hearings: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Faces the Senate Judiciary Committee

After 115 justices and more than 230 years, the Senate is in the process of confirming Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who would be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifying at confirmation hearing before Senate Judiciary Committee. Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe.

After 115 justices and more than 230 years, the Senate is in the process of confirming Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who would be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee concluded its four-day hearing on Thursday, examining President Joe Biden’s nominee to fill Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyers’s seat. The committee is set to vote on April 4 on whether or not to send her nomination to the Senate for a final confirmation.

Broadcasted on televisions around the country, last week’s confirmation hearings served as a platform for Jackson to introduce herself to the American people. However, lines of questioning seemed to highlight the “set of unspoken rules unfairly applied to Black women at work,” as described by Fast Company, when contending for positions of power in spaces that they historically have not occupied. 

“We have a diverse society in the United States … and when people see that the judicial branch is comprised of a variety of people who have taken the oath to protect the Constitution, it lends confidence that the rulings the Court is handing down are fair and just,” Jackson said during the hearing. 

“I think it’s extremely meaningful. One of the things that having diverse members of the Court does is it provides the opportunity of having role models,” Jackson continued.

A star student who participated in the speech and debate team at Miami Palmetto High School in Miami, Jackson went on to attend Harvard Law School and clerked for federal judges, including the retiring Justice Breyer. 

Jada Bourne, a senior strategic legal management communications major and president of the Howard University Speech and Debate Team, spoke about the impact of knowing Jackson had her start in speech and debate. 

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“To see another Black woman who has grown through [speech and debate] in the same way that I have and accomplished something that I said that I was going to accomplish so long ago is really really inspiring,” Bourne said, who has been involved in speech and debate for more than 10 years. 

“I am kind of excited to see how her position on the Supreme Court as the first Black woman who was involved in Speech and Debate bolsters the activity…I wish it had more of a presence in K-12 education so I hope that her nomination will be a guiding light of why the activity is so important and why more children, especially children of color, need to be involved in it,” she continued.

On the first day of the hearings, Jackson, dressed in a bright blue blazer, introduced herself to the nation and thanked her family and loved ones who she described as having been integral in helping her meet this historic moment. Patrick Jackson, Jackson’s husband of 25 years, and daughters, Talia, 21, and Leila, 17, beamed in support while sitting behind Jackson. Other family members speckled the courtroom as she prepared to face more than 23 hours of questioning over the next two days. 

Topics of questioning included her intentions of being an “activist judge,” defining what it means to be a woman, and responding to Senators’ attempts to paint Jackson as “soft on crime,” which was inspired by a lengthy tweet from Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri. 

However, the White House has denounced these claims about Jackson. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “in the vast majority of cases involving child sex crimes the sentences Judge Jackson imposed were consistent with or above what the government or U.S. Probation recommended.”

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Other Senators such as Sen. Alex Padilla of California used their time to uplift Jackson for her accomplishments and asked what she would say to those who “doubt that they can one day achieve the same great heights that you have,” to which she responded, “Persevere.” 

“I hope to inspire people to try to follow this path because I love this country, because I love the law, because I think it is important that we all invest in our future,” Jackson said as she commented on her position as a role model for future generations of Americans.

Dr. Danielle Holley-Walker, dean and professor of law at Howard University’s School of Law, also attended Harvard Law School and reflected on the several occasions on which she has met Jackson as she watched the hearings this week. 

“If you watch the confirmation hearings this week, it is very clear that representation in government does matter…the work that people of color, and that women and that people who are LGBTQIA+ do when they hold public office is just tremendously important to the rest of us,” added Holley-Walker.

As the hearing continued with many moments of high energy and emotion, there came a moment that brought Jackson to tears as Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey used his time to highlight Jackson’s qualifications for the position of Associate Justice. 

“You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American,” Sen. Booker said.

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While the Supreme Court currently sits a 6-3 Republican majority, Jackson’s addition to the bench symbolizes the importance of political actors that Americans can identify with and what their background adds to the work that they do for the people that they serve. 

“When I look at most of our elected officials I don’t identify with many of them, but when I do I often see that the work that they do reflects my values more…I think that what we have seen in people like Senator Booker, Senator Padilla, and Senator Hirono is their ability to use their identity and background to make them true representatives for people all over the United States,” Holley-Walker said.

“It’s a big moment in history,” Dwight Martin, a graduating senior health and science major, said.

“…we’re moving in the right direction, just hoping that this inspires the youth, Black Americans, Black women and men continue to fight and continue to push on and not give up on their dreams and to realize that you’re gonna have to work two or three times as hard just to be in the same place of people who do not look like you,” he said.

Copy edited by Lauryn Wilson

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