Breanna Reeves |
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, made history on Thursday when she was confirmed as the 116th Supreme Court justice, making her the first Black woman and first public defender to become a member of the highest court. The U.S. Senate confirmed Jackson’s appointment in a 53-47 vote.
Jackson will replace Justice Stephen Breyer who announced his retirement earlier in the year. She previously clerked for Breyer in 1999, and will fill his seat. He will complete his last term on the bench at the end of the summer, and Jackson will likely ascend the seat as early as June.
“Her opinions are always carefully reasoned, tethered to precedent, and demonstrate respect for how the law impacts everyday people. It doesn’t mean she puts her thumb on the scale of justice one way or the other, but she understands the broader impact of her decisions,” said President Joe Biden when he nominated Jackson to the high court in February. “[S]he strives to ensure that everyone understands why she made a decision, what the law is, and what it means to them. She strives to be fair, to get it right, to do justice.”
National NAACP President Derrick Johnson issued a statement on the historic Senate vote that reads in part, “Today’s vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court is of enormous consequence to our nation and to history. After 233 years, the Court will finally have a Black woman justice deciding our most significant cases with tremendous impact on our lives and the lives of our families.
This has taken far too long. Fifty-five years ago, former NAACP Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall broke down the wall when he was confirmed as the first Black American to sit on the Supreme Court. Today, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson shatters the glass ceiling to finally make room for a Black woman on our nation’s highest court.”
The confirmation hearings
Jackson’s confirmation hearing garnered much attention, not only for the historic nomination, but also for the line of questions Jackson received from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Over the three days of the hearing, Jackson was asked about her religion, questioned about her “soft” sentencing in regard to pedophiles and her involvement in assisting four Guantánamo Bay detainees in filing unlawful detention petitions as a federal public defender.
While Jackson endured hours of intense, and at times aggressive, questioning from members of the committee, she was also admired by members like Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) whose closing speech during the hearing elicited tears from Jackson.
“Today, you’re my star. You are my harbinger of hope. This country is getting better and better and better. When that final vote happens and you ascend onto the highest court in the land, I’m gonna rejoice. And I’m gonna tell you right now: The greatest country in the world, the United States of America, will be better because of you,” Booker said as his speech came to an end.
Over the span of 233 years, just two Black people — both men — have been confirmed to the bench since the Supreme Court was established in 1789. Those men were Thurgood Marshall in 1967 and Clarence Thomas in 1991, who still occupies the bench today.
Today, Jackson became only the 6th woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, alongside Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett.
Jackson’s nomination received support from three Republican Senators: Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Mitt Romney (UT) who helped push her confirmation to the court forward, joining the 50 Democratic votes.
Initial support for Jackson’s nomination to the court by the public was among the highest of any recent nominee, according to a Gallup poll conducted in March. According to the survey results, 58% of Americans said the Senate should confirm Jackson. Jackson’s level of support nearly rivals current Chief Justice John Roberts who had 59% of America’s support in 2005.
“To know at the highest level, there’s a person who looks like me, I think it’s incredible. I think it definitely sets the tone for those [who] come after her,” explained Che Wright, First Vice President of the San Bernardino Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“[I]t shows us that things are attainable, the things that they thought we weren’t going to be able to accomplish — we are. I hope that lots of Black women are celebrating today. It is really like some ‘Black Girl Magic’ to me right now,” Wright said.