Senate confirms Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as first Black woman to sit on Supreme Court

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is confirmed to be the first Black woman to become a justice for the Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of AP

By Camille Cox | Staff Writer

The Senate voted to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to serve on the highest court in the nation.

Jackson will join the court as soon as Justice Stephen G. Breyer retires at the end of the court’s session this summer.

Dr. Ronald Johnson, associate professor of history and Ralph and Bessie Mae Lynn chair of history, said Jackson’s nomination, hearings and confirmation are moments of history, furthering the voices of Black women in this country.

“I’m excited one, for women in general, but particularly for African American women,” Johnson said. “As a U.S. historian, I see the pattern of progress in our country that Black women fall behind other groups in terms of equality and access. With the nomination of the now-Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, there is a movement on behalf of Black women and for Black women that is important for Black women as a whole and for the nation to say that we can see Black women as a full part of our society.”

Johnson said the nomination of Jackson highlights the importance of voting to make citizens’ voices heard, regardless of politics.

“Whatever it is we believe in, I think it’s important to show those beliefs by voting, because it does matter, and history shows us that,” Johnson said.

Prior to her confirmation, Jackson faced three days of Senate confirmation hearings during which members of the committee questioned her on her beliefs and past rulings, among other things.

Journalism lecturer Sommer Dean, J.D., said via email that the hearings strayed from Jackson’s abilities as a judge to an attack on her character.

“This is a tale as old as time,” Dean said. “Every Black woman at any level of her professional life has had to endure some version of what she went through during her confirmation hearings. It was very clear what some of the senators were attempting to do: make her out to be some sort of dangerous radical while questioning her abilities and her right to be in that room and up for that job. Beyond just offensive, many of the questions posed were simply off-topic, like asking her to comment on a book titled ‘Anti-Racist Baby.’”

Johnson said Jackson faced much scrutiny but did so with composure throughout her hearings.

“I was disheartened to watch a brilliant African American female jurist have to endure the three days of what I call political theater,” Johnson said. “Many of those questions that she received had nothing to do with her jurisprudence, with how she would conduct herself as a judge. It was part of where we are in our political process, and there is some of this to be given on both sides of the aisle in that these hearings for Supreme Court justices are more about an opportunity for politicians to make political points than to show the American public whether or not this person is able to handle the job put in front of them. All that being said, Justice Jackson conducted herself with poise, professionalism and grace.”

Jackson attended Harvard University and Harvard Law School. She served as a federal public defender prior to her time as a judge in the U.S. District Court, which Dean said is invaluable to the court, as she will be the first justice in the modern court to serve as a public defender prior to nomination.

“My initial reaction to hearing the news of her confirmation was pure joy, along with a huge sigh of relief,” Dean said. “I have long been a Supreme Court nerd, and you can’t overstate the significance of seeing someone who looks like you rightfully earn their seat in a place like the Supreme Court. The experience and perspective Jackson will bring as a former public defender will be invaluable on the court.”

Memphis, Tenn., sophomore Claire Schneider said she is excited to see representation in the justice system.

“I think that she needs to create her own legacy, and she absolutely will,” Schneider said. “This is a huge moment in history, and people will have eyes on her, but I think she will knock it out of the park and create a name for herself.”

Johnson said when he found out Jackson was confirmed by the Senate, he celebrated in his office among his coworkers, reaffirming how important this moment is for this country.

“As a person of color in my department and at Baylor, it meant the world to me that my colleagues understood that this was going to be a big moment for me, and they wanted to share that moment for me, and I could not be more overjoyed,” Johnson said. “This restores and affirms my hope in what we can be and who we are as a nation. As a U.S. historian, I often have to write, research and teach areas in our country’s history where American citizens and our government did not live up to the ideals in our founding documents, but it is moments like this with colleagues and students who are not African American, who understood what this moment meant for me and what it meant for them and what it meant for the country. I love that moment for us as a nation, and I love it for us as a Baylor community.”