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The Newest Supreme Court Justice: Ketanji Brown Jackson

Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Supreme Court confirmation trial. The trial was broadcasted live on television. Image via C-SPAN.

On April 7, 2022, the United States Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson as the 116th Supreme Court Justice, making her the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. The first African-American Supreme Court Justice was Thurgood Marshall, who served from 1967 to 1991. Prior to serving on the Supreme Court, Justice Marshall was a civil rights lawyer who was very active in challenging Jim Crow laws. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court from 1981 to 2006. The first Latina Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, was sworn in in 2009. 

Given that it is 2022, having a Black woman finally take a seat on the Supreme Court seems long overdue. “I think we need more representation in the Supreme Court. That means race, gender, ethnicity, everything. I don’t think there could have been a better choice in the new Supreme Court Justice in terms of adding new opinions and perspectives,” said Sofia Kidd (12), who was on the Franklin Constitution team this past fall.

Ketanji Brown Jackson was born in Washington D.C. in 1970. She went on to attend Harvard, for college and law school, where she became a supervising editor for the Harvard Law Review. She was a public defense attorney in the early 2000s, and she will be the first justice to have previously been a public defender. In 2009, she was nominated by former President, Barack Obama, to be the Vice Chair of the United States Sentencing Commission; she was confirmed by the Senate for this role in February of the following year. 

Brown Jackson was nominated for the Supreme Court by President Joe Biden in February of 2022 after Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement earlier this year. She was confirmed to the court by a vote of 53-47: all 50 Democrats, plus Republican Senators Collins, Murkowski, and Romney. The addition of Brown Jackson to the Court fulfilled one of President Biden’s campaign promises, to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. 

The confirmation hearings were aired on live television. It took 41 days to confirm Brown Jackson, which compared to the hearings of Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh, is relatively short. The nomination divided the Senate Judiciary Committee by party, with the Democrats widely being in favor of her confirmation, and the Republicans being against it. 

Despite her triumph, her confirmation hearings brought many hurdles for Brown Jackson to navigate. Many questions were brought up during the trial, including her opinion on a living constitution. Her rejection of a living constitution was expected to win over more Republican senators, however they were not swayed as much as was anticipated. She also faced a certain amount of scrutiny from Senator Graham regarding her time as a public defender in Guantanamo Bay, when he took past statements out of context about U.S.-terrorist relations to paint her in a negative, “anti-American” light. 

In another instance, Senator Ted Cruz questioned her about Critical Race Theory in a school where she serves on the board, with Cruz asking “Do you agree with this book being taught to kids, saying that babies are racist?” She responded by saying “ I do not believe that any child should be made to feel as though they are racist or [as] though they are not valued or [as] though they are less than, that they are victims, that they are oppressors. I don’t believe in any of that.” 

Ketanji Brown Jackson becoming the first Black Supreme Court Justice of the United States is a moment that will go down in history. She will join Justices Marshall, O’Conner, and Sotomayor in the legacy of being the first. She will be sworn in, in late June or early July of 2022.

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