By Addison Wakelin ’22
On April 7, the U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. This monumental decision makes her the 116th justice to be confirmed, along with the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, the highest court in the nation.
The 53-47 Senate final vote showed a rather stark contrast in the support for Judge Jackson’s nomination, with just three Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to vote her into a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.
Judge Jackson is U.S. President Joe Biden’s first Supreme Court nominee. She will replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, who was confirmed to the bench in 1994 by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Judge Jackson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, then attended Harvard Law School, where she graduated cum laude and was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Since graduating, she has pursued a legal career spanning both public service and the Washington D.C. circuit courts.
The Supreme Court has long maintained rather homogenous appointments to the bench throughout history. Since the establishment of its first assembly in 1790, only five white women have served on the Supreme Court: Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett. Only two Black men, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas have served whileno Black women have previously sat on the highest court in the nation.
Following the appointment of three of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s nominees during his presidency, the Supreme Court remains a 6-3 conservative majority following Judge Jackson’s confirmation.
Such a conservative majority in the highest court in the nation has led to increased apprehension among many Americans, particularly in fear that certain progressive legislation will be repealed. For instance, the recent abortion rulings in states like Oklahoma, Tenessee, Florida, and Kentucky represent the growing incrimination of women’s reproductive freedom in the United States, particularly among those who identify as pro-choice.
Judge Jackson’s nomination did not come without a slew of attacks from certain Republican Senators, largely those who align with typical conservative talking points popularized over the last couple of decades.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, utilized his time during judiciary hearings to criticize Judge Jackson on the basis of false claims that she promotes critical race theory. Commonly known as CRT, critical race theory is an academic concept that emphasizes the role of race as a social, rather than biological, concept, in the broader implications of race and racism throughout U.S. history.
CRT, a university-level academic concept, has been weaponized by the GOP, with many conservative politicians falsely claiming that its teachings will be implemented in K-12 curriculum across the country. During the hearings, in response to Judge Brown being a board member at the Georgetown Day School, Sen. Cruz held up several anti-racism books in the school’s curriculum. He claimed, “if you look at the Georgetown Day School’s curriculum, it is filled and overflowing with critical race theory.”
Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley (R) similarly attacked Judge Jackson, not on the basis of her qualifications or her legal merit, but rather to pursue another largely misconstrued claim that she has been a defendant of pedophilia during her tenure in the D.C. Court Circuit.
In response to both claims, Judge Jackson said, “the evidence in these cases are egregious. The evidence in these cases are among the worst that I have seen, and yet, as Congress directs, judges don’t just calculate the guidelines and stop. Judges have to take into account the personal circumstances of the defendant, because that’s a requirement of Congress.”
The Republican Party has long sought to directly engage in narratives that seek to polarize the nation at both the local and national levels of government. Similar tactics to the ones used by both U.S. Senators were employed in 2015, before the legalization of same-sex marriage across the United States.
After hearing from nearly 23 hours of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Brown was finally confirmed by the Senate. Judge Brown’s appointment to the bench of the highest court in the United States represents changing tides and the necessity for diversity not only in the judiciary, but in society at large to create just representation and equity. “Equal Justice Under the Law,” a motto emboldened on the U.S. Supreme Court building, is emblematic of the necessary equity within the juridical means of society; Judge Jackson’s appointment to the bench of the most powerful court in the U.S. embodies that notion of implementing systemic change.