The confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States (U.S.) Supreme Court is undeniably a historical, monumental event. Never before has a Black woman sat on the bench as part of the highest court in the U.S. judicial system. With the retirement of Associate Justice Stephen Breyer looming, President Biden stayed true to his campaign promise of appointing a Black woman to fill the vacancy. Beyond the confirmation itself, however, Jackson has all the qualities necessary to bring a calming presence and uphold the law.
With an undergraduate and law degree from Harvard University and having served as a federal public defender in Washington D.C., Jackson has extensive experience dealing with criminal justice and legal disputes. Among her achievements as a judge, the most notable was blocking several Trump administration executive orders against federal employee unions and ruling against the expansion of removal procedures against non-citizens. Her sense of justice and sympathy for minorities bring people together and give assurance of fair ruling. With a determined attitude and storied resume, Jackson brings a fresh new voice into the Supreme Court.
Coming from an immigrant background, I am all too familiar with the increasing divisive political climate and racial hostility in America. Although I was fortunate to live in the Bay Area with communities that embrace diversity and unity, there are regions around the country that experience discrimination, racial violence, and social inequality on a daily basis. To have someone of Jackson’s background and stature representing the masses and having significant input over federal law is inspiring because her confirmation is an example of perseverance and defying the odds to become an important voice for the people.
Jackson’s willingness to bridge communication with those having opposing political views is also promising for me. By providing a fresh perspective, Jackson now has the platform to support and speak up for ethnic minorities across America, especially as legal cases reaching the Supreme Court are heavily focused on social issues and inequality. Even in a dissenting scenario, Jackson’s experience as defense attorney and strong articulation skills can possibly sway the opinions of her fellow colleagues and tilt the votes in the people’s favor.
As an Asian American, I feel optimistic that racial hatred and animosity towards communities of color can be lessened, as Jackson will be a much needed advocate when the Court is presented with cases concerning racial issues and representation.
Jackson’s confirmation should be celebrated as a big step forward towards a more progressive America and legal protection for minority groups across the country. In recent years, the political stage has been flooded with party interests and opposing viewpoints. For an institution like the Supreme Court, it is expected to uphold the values of the Constitution and create equal opportunities for all. There is hope that Jackson’s leadership and vast knowledge of the law can help stabilize the decision making of the Court and bring justice for those faced with social inequality.
At the same time, her journey to success serves as a role model for people of different backgrounds to venture onto the political stage and seek change for society as a whole. Although Jackson is only one of many justices on the Supreme Court, her addition could be the most significant one, as this historic moment could pave the way for significant change and uphold democratic values for a country seeking to reduce bipartisanship and social injustice.
With a 53-47 vote from the U.S. Senate, it is clear many still have reservations about Jackson’s background and capabilities, but with time, I am confident that the Supreme Court will be rejuvenated with new energy, led by Jackson to become a judicial institution capable of representing the interest of the people and closing the national political divide.
On April 7, Ketanji Brown Jackson became an Associate Justice-Designate of the U.S. Supreme Court (and will fully be an Associate Justice as soon as Associate Justice Stephen Breyer officially retires). Although tempers flared during the confirmation hearings, the overall mood was calm compared to the hearings of Associate Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, or even the court’s other Black Associate Justice Clarence Thomas back in 1991. Jackson’s legal career and the overwhelming qualifications she possessed made the vote a foregone conclusion, with Republication senators Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski joining the Democrats in confirming her.
With Jackson now in line to be the Court’s first-ever Black woman serving as a Justice, it is hard to avoid celebrating this momentous event. Most of the news stories surrounding her, and most of the casual discussions I’ve had or seen online focus on her race and how that plays into her status as a racial barrier-breaker. Many compared her confirmation to the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall, the Court’s first-ever Black Justice, in 1967. While Jackson’s confirmation is significant in the same manner as Marshall’s, reducing this historic feat to merely their racial identities detracts from what’s important, which is what they brought (or will bring) to the Supreme Court.
It is true that Marshall was the first Black person to sit on the Court when he was appointed in 1967, but prior to his consideration for the job, he had a long and progressive legal career behind him. Marshall spent decades as a civil rights lawyer representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in dozens of cases advocating for equal treatment in the South. He had helped civil rights leaders appeal to federal law enforcement in punishing the perpetrators of lynchings. Perhaps most arguably the most important of all, he served as the prosecutor in the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. It was this case and his support for civil and social rights that made him a notable figure throughout his term.
Like Marshall, we do a disservice to Ketanji Brown Jackson by celebrating only her status as the court’s first Black female justice. Her career tells us so much more about her and what kind of Justice she will be. After seven years of private practice in the 1990s and early 2000s, she served as a public defender in Washington, D.C., which has undoubtedly given her deep experience with the flaws of the criminal justice system. This is an important qualification to have in a time when police and courts are under increasing scrutiny.
She also demonstrated a compassionate approach during her time on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, in which she helped to reduce the severity of punishments for drug offenses. Serving as a D.C. District Court judge, she has ruled on behalf of prisoner rights and issued several key blockings of executive overreach by the Trump administration.
This all represents a comprehensively progressive and humanitarian legal philosophy that will no doubt shine through in decades of cases to come — something desperately needed on the current Supreme Court. This matters more than anything else because Justices have always shaped the issues of the time through how they articulate their rulings. We should celebrate Ketanji Brown Jackson not just for being the first Black woman on the Court, but for the worldview that she will provide.