Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, sat for four days as remarks about racist babies, abortion, activism, and child porn sentencing were made during the confirmation hearing.
Jackson, who is currently a judge on the D.C. Circuit, was nominated by President Joe Biden on Feb. 25 to fill the Supreme Court seat held by retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. On March 21, Jackson was sworn into the confirmation hearing and gave her opening statement. The judge said she was thankful for the “historic chance to join the highest court, to work with brilliant colleagues, to inspire future generations, and to ensure liberty and justice for all.”
As previously reported by Prism and anticipated by many, Judge Jackson did indeed face a great deal of political theater and racist questioning. Republican senators probed her judicial philosophy and repeated confusing claims about her sentencing record in various child pornography cases.
Sen. Ted Cruz stated that books such as “Antiracist Baby,” by Ibram X. Kendi, taught babies to be racist or anti-racist. He challenged Jackson by asking whether she believed babies are racist. After a clear sigh and a moment of silence, Jackson said, “I do not believe that any child should be made to feel as though they are racist, or though they are not valued, or though they are less than.”
Throughout the offensive and irrelevant questioning of the hearings, many social justice organizations spoke out in a show of support. According to a Gallup poll, initial public support for Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court ties as the highest Gallup has measured for any recent nominee: 58% of Americans say the Senate should vote in favor of Jackson serving on the Supreme Court. Only current Chief Justice John Roberts, at 59% in 2005, had a level of support similar to Jackson.
The Pew Research Center found that more than two-to-one Americans favor Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court. The study shows 24% of the public says the Senate should definitely vote her in, 20% say probably, while 18% say she should not be confirmed.
Several Republican senators have already mentioned they wouldn’t vote for Jackson after the confirmation. However, there are still a few Republican holdouts who might, like Sen. Susan Collins.
Among the dozens of organizations rallying on behalf of Jackson, the staff of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights have been vocal about their support. Lena Zwarensteyn, the senior director of the Fair Courts Program, is confident the nation will be well served when Jackson is confirmed. The panel’s vote is now scheduled for April 4.
“Along with the nation, we were moved by Judge Jackson and her story of perseverance. This hearing underscored how much representation matters and is needed on our Supreme Court,” Zwarensteyn said. “She has worked hard, demonstrated she is a fair-minded jurist, and is more than ready to take on this responsibility.”
In the wake of President Biden’s nomination, Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, put out a statement in favor of Jackson.
“As a District Court judge, she ruled on over 550 cases and is renowned for her careful, methodical approach to ensuring equal justice under the law on reproductive rights, disability rights, and workers’ rights,” Graves said. “It is incumbent upon senators to give her a fair and timely confirmation without obstruction, honoring their Constitutional duty to advise and consent, and their moral duty to treat her with the respect and dignity she deserves.”
Jackson is the first former federal public defender ever to be nominated to the Supreme Court and would be the only justice other than Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the high court with actual trial experience. Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, expressed how historic Jackson’s nomination was in a press release. Johnson mentioned how women, especially Black women, too often do not see themselves represented in the highest seats.
“As the Senate considers her nomination, we must not lose sight of how meaningful this moment is for this country, and for Black women,” Johnson said. “This nomination is also part of essential work to rebuild our courts and protect our health and rights.”
Like many other Black women, Michele Kilpatrick, the senior federal policy analyst at the Center for Popular Democracy, said her reactions to the hearing were mixed and that Jackson’s ability to handle the pressure of a Senate confirmation with grace and skill was inspiring.
“At the same time, the shamelessness of Republican senators in questioning her character was painful to see,” Kilpatrick said. “They knew her credentials were unimpeachable, and they knew they did not have the acumen to challenge her on judicial philosophy or legal reasoning—so instead, they resorted to dishonest attacks on her record and racist dog whistles.”
Kilpatrick felt Jackson deserved better and that every Supreme Court nominee deserves to be questioned by senators who can do their job with integrity. However, despite some of the vitriol that was spewed her way, the policy analyst was pleased to see interruptions in favor of Jackson.
“Her work will speak for itself, and a generation of Black girls will grow up seeing someone who looks like them and shares some of their experiences sitting on the Supreme Court,” Kilpatrick said.
With marginalized people facing threats to voting rights, reproductive rights, workers’ rights, and environmental protections, Kilpatrick said she believes Jackson’s nomination won’t be enough to ward off those threats. Instead, there is a need for structural changes in the Court.
“Congress must confirm Judge Jackson then pass the Judiciary Act to expand the court by appointing four additional justices so that the court can serve the people, not special interests and regressive conservative ideology,” Kilpatrick said.
Legal experts like Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director at the National ACLU and former SCOTUS clerk, think there has never been anyone better qualified to be a Supreme Court justice than Jackson. In an interview on The Takeaway, Wang mentioned Jackson’s extensive track record and credentials.
“There are a lot of people who are very proud of her. I am one of them. One of the extra pressures, of course, being the first is you carry all the dreams and hopes of an entire community with you when you go forward and sit there in that hearing room,” Wang said.
Many Supreme Court experts are confident Jackson will be confirmed. Gallup experts said even if all 50 Senate Republicans vote against her nomination, Vice President Kamala Harris would break the 50-50 tie. Activists and organizations will continue to support Jackson as they wait for a decision.