Ketanji Brown Jackson at the Senate confirmation (Photo: NY Times)

Confirmed on March 21, 2022, Ketanji Brown Jackson has become the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. This historic move was largely celebrated and welcomed, with all members of the Democratic caucus and three Republicans voting in favor of the nomination, showing a rare shred of bipartisan unity over the confirmation.

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Miami, Florida, Jackson attended Harvard University for college and law school, where she served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Fresh out of college, Jackson became active on the D. C. political scene, serving as a law clerk and an assistant federal public defender, where she handled cases for the US court of appeals. In 2009, under the Obama administration, Jackson was nominated to serve as vice-chair of the United States Sentencing Commission and was unanimously voted in by the senate. During her five years on the commission, Jackson worked to reduce sentencing for drug offenses, and shorten or erase prison time for nonviolent crimes. 

In early 2016, while still under Obama’s administration, Jackson was announced as one of the nominees to replace the vacancy caused by Antonin Scalia’s death, but ultimately was not picked. Four years later, during Biden’s presidential campaign, he pledged to appoint a Black woman to the court, should a vacancy occur. Shortly after Stephen Breyer announced his retirement in Jan. 2022, Biden announced that Jackson was his nominee for associate justice of the Supreme Court.

A controversial hearing followed, in which Judge Jackson was subjected to a dysfunctional line of questioning by Republican senators. The multiday spectacle was highly publicized and the ridiculous nature of the questioning left many shocked. Republican senators attempted to portray Jackson as a “dangerous” judge engaged in an extremist mission. Accusing her of undermining public safety on behalf of child-sex offenders, terrorists, and shady money figures on the far left, the hearing was a testament to the deep divisions between both parties, and refusal to compromise. 

Between hyper-specific questions which were seemingly asked only to distract, G.O.P. senators’ claims and accusations were astonishing. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a highly controversial figure, called those who voted for Jackson “pro-pedophile.” Another senator, Tom Cotton, went into a long rant, finishing with the ridiculous statement, “Judge Jackson has also shown real interest in helping terrorists.” And at one point, Senator Ted Cruz suggested voting for Jackson was comparable to abolishing the police. However, throughout the line of questioning, Judge Jackson remained patient and composed, holding her ground. Refusing to turn the supreme court into a spectacle, she declared “I believe that judges are not policymakers, that we have a constitutional duty to decide only cases and controversies that are presented before us. Within that framework, judges exercise their authority to interpret the law, and not make the law.”

 After a 235-year history, Ketanji Brown Jackson represents “another step toward making our highest court reflect the diversity of America” according to President Biden. She is soon to become the court’s 116th member, joining a court that has grown substantially more conservative following the appointment of three of former President Donald Trump’s nominees. Jackson will be officially sworn in and become an associate justice in late June or early July when Breyer’s retirement goes into effect. President Biden celebrated her confirmation, “Judge Jackson’s confirmation was a historic moment for our nation … She will be an incredible Justice, and I was honored to share this moment with her.”

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