Ketanji Brown Jackson Will Be the First Black Woman to Sit on the Supreme Court

In a 53-47 vote on Thursday, the Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, officially making her the first Black female justice in the Court’s 233-year history. Jackson will take Justice Stephen Breyer’s seat after he retires at the end of the Court’s current term this summer.

“Even in the darkest times, there are bright lights,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said on the Senate floor. “Today is one of the brightest lights. Let us hope it’s a metaphor, an indication of many bright lights to come.”

Prior to the full Senate vote, Jackson sat through four days of confirmation hearings, where Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee often derailed the conversation with inaccurate and distracting lines of questioning, including whether Jackson believes babies are born racist and how faithful she considers herself on a scale from 1 to 10. While historic, the hearings were also a familiar, and at times, traumatizing event for Black women across America who saw themselves in Jackson. As Georgetown University government professor Nadia Brown told the Los Angeles Times, “This is just a master class in how Black women have to be patient—have to be fully composed in responding to things that are meant for destruction.”

But between the microaggressions and the outbursts, the hearings also produced some genuinely powerful moments, including a now-viral photo of Jackson’s teenage daughter Leila looking at her mom and beaming with pride. In another particularly moving segment, Sen. Cory Booker chose to draw attention to the significance of Jackson’s appointment. He told her: “You’re a person who is so much more than your race and gender. You’re a Christian, you’re a mom, you’re an intellect, you love books, but for me, I’m sorry, it’s hard not to look at you and not see my mom…I see my ancestors and yours…You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.”

President Joe Biden first nominated Jackson to the Court in late February, following through on his campaign promise to nominate the first Black woman to SCOTUS. When he announced his pick, he said of Jackson, “She’s a history maker…an immensely qualified judge who’s going to help make our courts stronger and more reflective of our country.” Though Jackson won’t affect the Court’s current conservative majority, her presence ensures Democrats will have a guaranteed seat for decades to come. Jackson will also be the rare Supreme Court justice with significant experience as a criminal defense attorney and the first to have been a federal public defender. She’s also served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and in 2021, she was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Now, she’ll become only the sixth woman and the fourth person of color to sit on highest court in the nation.

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