The numbers reflect how divisive this confirmation was, so closely split along party lines. The vote came down to three Republicans who joined fifty Democrats in supporting President Biden’s nominee, and at that moment the majority’s victory was announced and history was made. The Senate voted to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, the first Black woman to serve on the highest court in the land.
Perhaps the picture that was taken in the Roosevelt Room at the time the Senate vote was read best encapsulates the significance of the moment: President Biden and Judge Jackson embracing each other when the Senate vote passed the threshold for her to be confirmed. Judge Jackson will be taking the seat of former Justice Breyer when he retires at the end of the Supreme Court term this summer and, like all Supreme Court justices, she is appointed for life.
So many people are asking: Will Jackson’s appointment radically change the ideological composition of the Supreme court? The answer is probably not.
There will still be a 6-3 conservative majority. Nonetheless, Justice Jackson brings her diverse background and professional experience to the bend in ways that will challenge the Supreme Court to reflect the racially and ethnically diverse nature of the American population it is supposed to represent. Jackson previously served as an assistant public defender and as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, both after graduating from Harvard University and Harvard Law School.
Despite her qualifications and proven track record, though, Republicans in the Senate harshly critiqued Jackson during her confirmation hearings as being too liberal and too lenient on crime, especially since she sentenced offenders of child pornography cases below federal guidelines. Throughout her intensive confirmation hearings, Jackson pledged to approach cases neutrally and interpret and apply the law “without fear or favor,” consistent with her judicial oath.
As I reflect upon Judge Jackson’s confirmation, I cannot help but think that it was just a few months ago in my Advanced Placement United States History class that we studied the racial segregation Jim Crow laws and 1960s race riots. Heated racial tensions have recently resurfaced in the aftermath of police brutality against George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, sparking nationwide civil unrest.
Judge Jackson shared that her own parents experienced segregation under Jim Crow laws, forced to attend segregated schools in Florida. Now, only a single generation later, she is confirmed to the Supreme Court. This demonstrates how far we as a nation have come in reconciling our scarred racial history but also reminds us of how far we have left to go.
This moment was all the more important because Vice President Kamala Harris, reading the results, is the first Black woman to hold the role of vice president and this is the first time two Black judges are sitting on the Supreme Court simultaneously in addition to four women on the high court.
As a young Black woman who also aspires to a career in law, Judge Jackson’s appointment inspires me to write here the same thing she wrote in her high school yearbook: “I want to go into law and eventually have a judicial appointment.” Hopefully by that time, having a Black woman in the high court or any prestigious position will not be seen as making history, but rather a continued testament to social justice and equal protection under the law.