In a historic 53-47 vote, the Senate has confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 51-year old Jackson will take the seat of the justice she once clerked for, Stephen Breyer, when he retires before the October term. Vice President Kamala Harris—who represents two firsts as a woman and person of color to serve in that office—presided, making the moment doubly historic.
Jackson’s impeccable qualifications have been well-documented. Her path to this confirmation was as heinous as Republicans could make it. But to paraphrase Sen. Cory Booker, those Republican senators can’t steal our joy.
“I want to tell you, when I look at you, this is why I get emotional,” Booker said to Jackson on her final day in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I’m sorry, you’re a person that 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 for me not to look at you and see my mom, not to see my cousins—one of them who had to come here and sit behind you. She had to have your back. I see my ancestors and yours. Nobody’s going to steal the joy of that woman in the street or the calls I’m getting or the texts. Nobody’s going to steal that joy. You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.”
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That is the joy Jackson’s successors, young Black women in the Harvard Black Law Students Association, expressed in this New York Times profile, while at the same time reinforcing how hard it as been to get there, to have to be “near perfect” to do it. Here are a few of their reflections, but it is well worth your time to read the whole article.
Abigail Hall, who is 23, has always wanted to be the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, but says “if I have to be second, I’m fine being second to K.B.J.” “She’s had to meet every single mark and she hasn’t been able to drop the ball,” Hall said. “And that’s something that’s ingrained in us, in terms of checking every box, in order to be a Black woman and to get to a place like Harvard Law School.”
Catherine Crevecoeur, 25, watched the hearings and gave side-eye to Republicans. “They were trying to plant seeds of distrust,” she said. “It’s not new. It’s very common, I think, to a lot of people of color in these spaces.” That makes Jackson’s confirmation all the more important. “That’s why it’s extra imperative for people to be represented and to see ourselves and to know that we belong in these spaces,” she said. Christina Coleburn added that “We’re our ancestors’ wildest dreams, some you’ve never gotten to meet.”
Virginia Thomas (not that Virginia Thomas) is already marking victories. She helped pass New York City’s ban on discrimination over hair, and reveled in the picture of Jackson “with sisterlocks, standing up there in her glory and her professionalism.” “It’s an opportunity for people to really visualize and see Black women doing what they do, which is being unapologetically successful, unapologetically confident in who they are,” Thomas said. She organized screenings of the hearings at Harvard, and said watching the support staff of the school—cafeteria staff, custodians, security guards—was a highlight for her. “Watching with the staff in the morning before students started trickling in after classes and realizing that this moment is bigger than just for law school nerds who love the Supreme Court,” she said. “It also matters for everyday people.” She added, “Everyday people who look at this woman and think to themselves, ‘Wow, she did it.’”
Gwendolyn Gissendanner grew up in working-class Detroit and works at the school’s student-run Legal Aid Bureau. “We always have to think about what we need to do to make my often Black low-income clients appeal to a white judge who doesn’t understand their experience,” she said. “But someone who you don’t have to take the extra leap to prove to them that race interacts with every aspect of your life makes a giant difference in what types of decisions can be made.”
“This is a Black woman who went to Harvard undergrad, who went to Harvard Law School,” Aiyanna Sanders said. “We are literally walking in her shoes as we walk through this hallway. And so it’s so close to home. Wow, these things are attainable. But also dang, why hasn’t it happened yet? Or why is it that in 2022 is the first time this has occurred?”
It won’t be the last time, Ms. Sanders.