Ketanji Brown Jackson is the 116th Associate Justice of the United States (US) Supreme Court. Confirmed on the 7 April 2022 after a month and a half of hearings, she had been nominated by president Joe Biden on 25 February.
She is the first black woman and the second black person to ever serve in the institution. She is joining eight other judges.
Her confirmation came after over twenty hours of interviews and nearly a hundred meetings in which she had to prove her knowledge and suitability for the position. Beyond that, she also had to fight against systemic racism from her peers almost every step of the way.
Judge Jackson was approached by the majority white Senate Judiciary Committee, as they grilled her on how she qualified for the role. Throughout the two weeks long ordeal, she was repeatedly asked by white committers appropriate and not that appropriate questions, from her personal values to her process when it comes to racially motivated crimes.
She experienced vicious behaviour from senators, who often interrupted or not left any time to answer the questions they presented to her. Some went so far as to pose her questions unrelated to the job she was being interviewed for.
On one occasion, senator Ted Cruz showed her an extract from Antiracist Baby by Ibram X Kendi and asked her if she “supported this book being taught in schools, since it suggested that babies are born racist” as if they were interviewing her by her ethnicity instead of her knowledge. He also followed a similar line of questioning about the kids’ book Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism and You, by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi, adapted by Sonja Cherry-Paul.
Without the privilege and the power that her interrogators possess, Jackson still managed to hold her ground, questioning time and time again what the relevance those questions had to the role she was being interviewed for.
Raise your hopes very high
Addressing the nation on the 8 April 2022 on her success, with president Joe Biden and vice president Kamala Harris by her side, Jackson said: “Over these past few weeks, you’ve heard a lot from me and about me, so I hope to use this time primarily to do something that I have not had sufficient time to do, which is to extend my heartfelt thanks to the many, many people who have helped me as part of this incredible journey”.
Introducing the newest member of the US Supreme Court to the press, Biden prefaced Jackson by mentioning that she was a young girl who was dissuaded from even thinking she should apply to Harvard Law School. “Don’t raise your hopes so high. Well, I don’t know who told her that, but I’d like to go back and invite her to the Supreme Court so she can see the interior”, Biden said.
Born in Washington D.C on 14 September 1970, Ketanji Brown Jackson spent most of her early life growing up in Miami, Florida. The daughter of a principal at the New World School of The Arts and a chief attorney, she always set her targets high, not letting anyone sway her from the path she chose. Following in her chief attorney father’s footsteps, Jackson attended Harvard University where she studied law. Much against the advice of her high school guidance counsellor, who recommended that she “set her sights lower”.
A landmark while racism remains
The act of judge Jackson voted in to serve on the US Supreme Court has been a long time in making for black people in the US, especially black women. This historical landmark is another step toward giving the American people better ethnic representation within official roles of great power within the American government.
This immense achievement for both judge Jackson and the US justice system is a welcomed change for many who have witnessed the many prejudicial atrocities in America, which have continued to target communities and minorities on behalf of the law. With new hopes on the horizon, her victory has also given many black lawyers, and black female lawyers, a renewed confidence in how their country includes its people in positions of high power and authority with equality. Whilst also allowing them to see themselves reflected and represented in these roles.
Many may see this as a step in the right direction to defy decades-old prejudice within the system that has quite often subjected minorities to various injustices. However, as her hearing shows us, the US still faces rising cases of racism and institutional racism has not magically disappeared overnight.