President Joe Biden captures the moment with new Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson at the White House while watching the Senate vote. Justice Jackson is the 116th judge to the high court. Photo courtesy: White House Twitter

Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed as first Black woman on the Supreme Court

5 mins read

Historic vote welcomes a more diverse Supreme Court, but during challenging political and economic times in the U.S.

The Senate Chambers erupted into applause following Vice-President Kamala Harris’ announcement of an approval vote, 53-47, ushering in Ketanji Onyika Brown Jackson as the third Black Supreme Court Justice, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. Her confirmation makes her the first Black woman Justice. 

In glee, President Joe Biden messaged, “Historic moment for our courts and for our country.” President Biden stood with Justice Jackson at the White House to watch the Senate vote. POTUS furthered. “We’ve taken another step toward making our highest court reflect the diversity of America.”

While most of the vote was along party lines, three Republican senators endorsed Justice Jackson: Sens. Susan Collins, of Maine, Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Mitt Romney, of Utah. Countering Republicans walked out of the Senate chambers during the congratulatory ovation. Yet and still, in a historic flip decision, Sen. Romney cast a ballot against her in 2021 when the newly minted Justice was up for nomination as a circuit court judge on the appeals court. This year, showing support for the Justice, he cited her as a “well-qualified jurist and a person of honor.”

Other outpours of support rang throughout the country. Vice-President Harris called Justice Jackson “a hero to so many Americans,” who carries a career exhibiting “impeccable character and dedication to the rule of law.” 

Former first lady, Michelle Obama, expressed.  “Like so many of you, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride—a sense of joy—to know that this deserving, accomplished Black woman will be a part of the highest court in the land.”

Adding to the revelry, Rep. Rashida Tlaib commented. “Though this milestone is long overdue, it moves us closer to a government that reflects the beautiful diversity of the United States. ”

Jokingly, but with serious undertones, former Democratic Senator, Al Franken quipped, “Pretty sure her husband will never plot a coup to overturn an election.”

What multiple supporters of the new Justice point out is her expansive career. “She’s the first public defender and the first Black woman on the Supreme Court—delivering powerfully important experience to the bench,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) stated elatedly.

“Judge Jackson’s story is a uniquely American one — proof that our nation can be made more perfect over time,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) chimed in.

Justice Jackson’s endorsement also received more votes than Justice Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barret.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks at the 2020 Parsons Dinner, which honors a different distinguished African-American federal jurist each year. Judge jacson Brown was an honoree at the Third Annual Judge James B. Parsons Legacy Dinner. Photo credit: Lloyd DeGrane on Wikimedia commons

Read: Newark tenants facing evictions after eviction moratorium ends

The Miami-native, Harvard graduate went through a four-day hearing last month leading up to the approval. In the sessions, she explained her decision on multiple cases, including responding to her opinion of race and law. Also in the hearings, she spoke of her experience of coming from parents who grew up in the segregated south, but endured as HBCU graduates. Her father went on to become the main counsel for Miami-Dade County School Board, while her mother was a principal. 

For Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ), who broke down in tears during the hearings when speaking in her defense after she endured “outrageous insults during questioning,” said the new Justice marks “a day of healing for a lot of people.” Sen. Booker also called the historical vote a “glass ceiling shattered” and a “Jackie Robinson moment for America.”

Justice Jackson will replace Justice Stepher Breyer, who is set to retire this summer. When she begins, she will become the fourth woman on the current Court, joining Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett. This will be the largest representation of women in SCOTUS history. To date, Justice Jackson will be the sixth woman to serve on the Supreme Court in its 232 years of existence, and out of the 115 high court judges selected. 

Nonetheless, the Court will remain a conservative majority at 6-3, and the likelihood of it being that way for years to come bears a high probability. Even though other Justices might step down during the Biden Administration, the upcoming elections in battle states such as Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and New Hampshire, are likely to flip the Senate to a Republican majority. In turn, that will block another liberal Justice appointee.

Watch: Weak economy, unpromising voting rights bill places pressure on Biden

While Justice Jackson finally breaks a barrier, the momentous occasion fails to outshine the growing concerns in the U.S. Like most nations, the country struggles to recover from a COVID-19 pandemic. Now it is one of the chief backers of Ukraine in its war with Russia. The conflict between two of the top suppliers of natural resources such as oil and fertilizer, has set off skyrocketing inflation in the midst of a housing crisis. Plus, Biden’s key legislation, the Build Back Better plan, has been stymied in the Senate due to the reluctance of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema, of Arizona agreeing to approve the bill.

Added to the woes of the U.S. are the vulnerability of rights that directly impact people of color and women. “Justice Jackson’s appointment comes at a critical time when federal voting rights protections and abortion rights are being threatened,” noted The National Coalition of 100 Black Women National President Elizabeth A. Jones.

Last week, Oklahoma voted in a near-ban on abortion, and the ratcheting up in the erosion of voting rights has been occurring since the election of former POTUS Barack Obama. Right now, voting rights are being challenged in more that 30 states as the country nears major elections in November.

While those celebrate, others have voiced their concern beyond the Justice vote. “Democrats were elected for POLICY, not just one person’s POSITION,” argued political analyst Tezlyn Figaro who stressed that Justice Jackson’s new job does not absolve Democratic constituents from demanding more from Biden and other elected officials. “It’s called doing two things at the same time smh yes celebrate and post about it all day BUT will you also post about pushing the line for POLICY????”

Figaro was responding to an MSNBC report that mentioned Democratic strategists expressing optimism that the Justice Jackson appointment will “juice the enthusiasm” of its key voting bloc, Black women. For that voting block, while they are revered as being the top demographic starting business and obtaining higher education, they also hold the numbers of being disproportionately evicted from housing, have incurred high student loan debt and receive less than half a percent in investment capital for their entrepreneurial investments.

While the Biden Administration is working to pick up momentum, like just announcing to extend the student loan moratorium, Black women voters have a lot on their plate to navigate in the coming days.

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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