Watching the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson during these hearings has been painful. Jackson was nominated on my birthday, and what a gift it was. To see the first Black woman Supreme Court justice in my lifetime is something that truly thrills me.
I see myself. I see my aunts, my sister, my niece, my grandmother, and a whole bunch of Black colleagues who at some point and in various ways were forced to stand strong, defending themselves, their reputations, their families, their ethics, and their beliefs against a mentality of white fragility and entitlement that confidently challenges them. Just because.
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And just like the Black women in my life, Jackson has far surpassed the expectations—but still, she must endure judgment and questions from so many who’ve accomplished far less.
Jackson, 51, is a first: the first Black woman nominee in the 230-year history of the Supreme Court.
Per the White House website, Jackson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, then attended Harvard Law School, where she graduated magna cum laude and was an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Jackson served as a law clerk for three federal judges: Judge Patti B. Saris, then at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya (1997–1998). Then she clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer from 1999 until 2000.
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In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Jackson to become vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and she was confirmed unanimously in 2010. Two years later, Obama nominated her to serve as a judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, and she was confirmed by the full Senate in 2013.
Former President Barack Obama said of Jackson: ”Judge Jackson has already inspired young Black women like my daughters to set their sights higher, and her confirmation will help them believe they can be anything they want to be.”
There’s no doubt that Jackson’s career is stellar. And yet, that hasn’t stopped the onslaught of attacks from the GOP.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz launched into a rant about critical race theory (CRT), hoping to ensnare Jackson by alluding that since she sits on a board at Georgetown Day School (where her two daughters attended), that somehow she was endorsing CRT.
“If you look at the Georgetown Day School’s curriculum, it is filled and overflowing with critical race theory,” Cruz said, according to The Washington Post. Cruz made his racist rant using posters and children's books, and even asking whether “babies are racist?” And still, I watched the calm take over Jackson’s face. She answered thoughtfully and slowly, almost as if she were speaking to a child. This is something Black women have grown accustomed to doing as caregivers, parents, and to placate white employers.
Civil rights attorney and former President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) from 2013 to 2022 Sherrilyn Ifil tweeted after seeing Cruz’s questioning of Jackson: “The sigh. The pause. The double blink. The angle of the head. Volumes spoken before giving the answer. We understand.”
Sen. Josh Hawley’s attack centered on a 2013 child pornography case. The usual term for such offenses is 10-years; Jackson sentenced the defendant to three months in prison.
Jackson told Hawley that Congress gives judges the discretion to decide to sentence based on individual circumstances of each case. She pointed to a defendant's age, the sort of crime committed, and what harm has come to the victim.
“I don’t remember in detail this particular case, but I do recall it being unusual,” Jackson said, according to Politico. “And so my only point to you is that judges are doing the work of assessing in each case a number of factors that are set forward by Congress.”
The Los Angeles Times reports that Georgetown University government professor and chair of the women’s and gender studies program, Nadia Brown, put the curriculum aside this week and instead had her class watch Jackson’s hearings.
“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,” Brown told the Times. “These are the kinds of attacks that Black women get in their professional roles.”
Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, told the Times the hearings were difficult for her. “You’ve seen this effort by some of the senators to smear her, and it is hard to watch,” Graves says. “I imagine that women in particular around the country who are watching this are frustrated.”
But as challenging as it's been to watch the GOP try to take her down, Sen. Cory Booker lifted us all up when he said, “You have faced insults here that were shocking to me. Well, actually, not shocking. But you are here because of that kind of love, and nobody’s taking this away from me.”
As Daily Kos staff writer Laura Clawson noted, “Booker brought Jackson to tears as he spoke directly to their shared experience as Black people rising to the highest levels of achievement and recognition, directly acknowledging the ugliness from his Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee but also invoking the pride and love that many Black people feel to see Jackson and Booker sitting where they are right now.”
For a little light, watch this:
In the end, I’m confident she will be sworn in because I choose to believe that between her outstanding record and experience—not to mention how she’s handled the hearings—how could she not be?
But I doubt anyone who is not a Black woman can relate to how it feels for an overly qualified Black woman to be interviewed for a job, or a raise, or a mortgage, or to open an account, or to simply live and breathe in a world that by and large doesn’t respect you, despite how hard you work.
Yet despite all of the viciousness and childishness, I think a lot of Black women were still able to find joy in watching how beautifully Jackson composed herself. I remember watching Justice Brett Kavanaugh and wondering how in the world he would ever be able to navigate the world with how hopeless confused, angry, and temperamental he was during his hearings.
So I have hope. I look to women like Jackson and I think, “Damn, she did it.” In the same way that I think, “Damn, my dad did it.” He was a Black microbiologist in the late 1950s and traveled the world, every day using, as Ifil says, “The sigh. The pause. The double blink. The angle of the head.”