Ketanji Brown Jackson Is Confirmed to the Supreme Court

Melanie Barry, Copy Editor

During Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign run for president, he promised that, if given the opportunity, he would nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court. In late January of this year, Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement. Less than a month later, Biden named his nomination: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. On Apr. 7, Judge Jackson was confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States, making her the first Black, female justice on the Court.

“I don’t think specifically picking out justices just based on their race is the right way to do it,” said junior Arav Jain. “It’s important to ensure diversity, but I don’t like the practice of bringing people into sought after positions by their race. I think that a person’s qualifications should come first.”

Though technically she was put on the ballot for supreme court nominee because she is a black woman, there is no denying that she is incredibly qualified. In fact, praise for Judge Jackson has permeated party lines to a remarkable extent, at least for this day and age. She has received endorsement from law enforcement groups like the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association for Chiefs of Police, and she is backed by a collection of bipartisan and GOP politicians who served primarily during the Reagan, H.W. Bush, and W. Bush administrations. Additionally, it is widely agreed that having a person with her professional background on the Supreme Court would be advantageous. As Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in his opening statement, “[Judge Jackson’s] background as a federal public defender would bring an informed perspective on our criminal justice system to the supreme court.”

Still, many of the Republican politicians currently in-office have made their opposition to her nomination clear. During the confirmation hearings held from March 21 to March 23, her career in law over the last three decades was picked apart and scrutinized heavily.

Born in 1970 in Miami, Florida to parents whose careers were based in education and public service, Judge Jackson showed promise from an early age, winning national debate competitions and leading her high school as the student body president. When she was a teenager, her debate coach took took her to Harvard for a competition. As a public school student who had seen very little of any university campuses prior to that day, Harvard was a new world to her, and it left a lasting impression that would lead her to apply as a senior and ultimately attend from 1988 to 1992 (during which she met husband Patrick Jackson), graduating magna cum laude, and then again from 1994 to 1996 to earn her law degree.

For the next eight years, she bounced between whichever law-related jobsfit her and her family’s wants and needs at any given time. This included working as clerk for Justice Breyer. She also gave birth to daughters Talia and Leila during that time. “The firm was very supportive,” she said during a 2017 speech before the University of Georgia School of Law, “but I don’t think it is possible to overstate the degree of difficulty that many young women and especially new mothers face in the law firm context.”

From 2005 to 2007, she worked as a federal public defender, representing some of the most infamous criminals in modern-day America. This period in her career has drawn the criticism of the Republican Party, which has branded her as “soft on crime” and a “radical, left-wing activist.” During these two years, she was assigned to represent four separate men charged with involvement an association with al-Qaida and the Taliban, all who were being held at the new Guantanamo Bay detention center. With Judge Jackson representing them, all four men evaded conviction, were eventually released.

These men are widely-believed to have committed the crimes with which they were charged – in the years since, Judge Jackson herself has referred to them as “terrorists.” Nonetheless, the Democratic Party stands by Judge Jackson’s representation of the Guantanamo Bay detainees, arguing that “Capable advocates willing to defend the most reviled in society, without endorsing the crime, is a pillar of our system.” During the senate hearings, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) posed the question to Judge Jackson: “Do you think America would be safer or less safe if we released all the detainees at Guantanamo Bay?” In response, Judge Jackson conceded that, of course, America would be safer without terrorists running around and doing harm to the nation. She added, “America would also be more safe in a situation in which all of our constitutional rights are protected.” The day prior, she had stated that, though she did not get to pick her clients, it was her job as a federal public defender to stand up for the constitutional value of representation.

Senior Jacob Huffaker, who is considering going into law in the future, shared his outlook on the matter. He pointed out that sending a person to prison is not a trivial act, and therefore it is essential that the proof is there. “That means that the job of the defense is not even to try to get the accused off,” he said, “but to force the prosecutor to prove that they did it. And if the prosecutor can’t prove it, then that person shouldn’t go to prison. Even if I think they did it, and we all know they did it. If you can’t prove it, then you can’t ruin this person’s life. People take issue with the fact that she defended these guys and they got off – well, shouldn’t you be mad at the prosecutor who messed up the case? Like, Jackson did her job, and she did it well. She defended our system. The prosecutor is the one who screwed up.”

In 2013, President Barack Obama nominated Judge Jackson to the position of circuit judge of the Colombia Circuit, a position that she has remained in until Biden’s nomination the Supreme Court. For Republican senators, a concern of equal weight are the handful of sentences – which they deemed light compared to federal guidelines – issued by Judge Jackson in the cases of alleged sex offenders.

On the third day especially, Republican senators honed on this issue, namely Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator Tom Cruz (R-TX). Sen. Cruz brought up one particular case from 2017, wherein Judge Jackson sentenced Neil Stewart, convicted with possessing and distributing child pornography, to 57 months in jail, about half of the 97 to 121 months prescribed by federal sentencing guidelines. “You said [the Stewart case] was egregious,” said Sen. Cruz. “What did you sentence Stewart to? The guidelines said 97 [to] 121 months. [The] prosecutor said 97 months . . . You come in with 57 months.”

While acknowledging that all crimes involving child pornography are despicable, Judge Jackson emphasized that there is a hierarchy of offenses across all cases, on which the guidelines that she follows as a judge are based. “Our sentencing system – the system that our congress has created, the system that the sentencing commission is the steward of – is a rational one. It’s a system that is designed to help judges give justice in these terrible circumstances by eliminating unwarranted disparities, by ensuring that the most serious defendants get the longest periods of time.”

Sen. Graham also debated with Judge Jackson over the different methods of deterring sex offenders from repeating the same crime. Sen. Graham expressed favor for jailtime, and implied that Judge Jackson would prefer simply supervising their computer usage. Judge Jackson reminded Sen. Graham that in each of the cases he had referenced, she had, in fact, sent each of the accused to jail. Supervision and restrictions on their computer use were simply added measurements taken.

Other than Guantanamo Bay and child pornography cases, there were a host of other topics brought up during the confirmation hearings. There was an emotional moment between Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Judge Jackson, in which he expressed admiration of her parents for “loving this country even though this country didn’t love them back,” and called Judge Jackson a “harbinger of hope.” Another touching moment was when Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA), asked her what she would say to young Americans who doubt their ability to achieve great things, and Judge Jackson shared an experience from her first semester in Harvard when she was feeling unsure of herself, and a black woman unknown to her passed her in the Harvard yard, leaned in, and said “persevere.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) discussed Judge Jackson’s role in maintaining the public’s confidence in the court. Judge Jackson said, “I hope that [this nomination] will bring confidence, and it will help inspire people to understand that our courts are like them, that our judges are like them.” Freshman Sara Cizek believes that there are more white people on the supreme court than is proportional to American demographics. She added, “I recently heard that in Texas and Florida, queer children are getting their rights taken away. So, I feel like we should definitely have representation for queer people and people of other religions in the our government so that their rights will be protected.”

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) both questioned her on the supreme court’s right to create new laws outside of the constitution, with Cornyn’s focus being on the nationwide legalization of gay marriage, and Blackburn’s on the nationwide legalization of abortion.

Many Democratic viewers found some of the Republican senators’ questions ridiculous and off-topic, while Republicans viewed Judge Jackson’s attempts to return the conversation to its intended focus, her aptitude as a judge, as filibustering. These moments of incredulity on both sides were notably the most circulated throughout media outlets.

Sen. Blackburn pressed Judge Jackson to provide a definition for the term “woman,” and Judge Jackson replied that she could not. Sen. Blackburn took this as an indicator of the “dangers of the kind of progressive education that we are hearing about.”

Sen. Cruz displayed a children’s picture book called “Anti-Racist Baby” and asked Judge Jackson if she believed that babies are racist.

Sen. Graham asked Judge Jackson to rate how religious she is on a scale from one to ten, and if she attends church regularly. Judge Jackson responded, “I am reluctant to talk about my faith in this way, just because I want to be mindful of the need for the public to have confidence in my ability to separate out my personal views.” Sen. Graham also spent a considerable chunk of time making jabs about the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and reassuring a blank-faced Judge Jackson that the Republican senators of the committee would not stoop to the level of the Democratic senators and blindside her with accusations of something she had done in high school.

Nonetheless, after a hard-fought battle in the senate, Judge Jackson was confirmed to supreme court with 53 votes in favor of her confirmation and 47 votes in opposition. Only 3 Republicans, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney strayed from party lines and voted in favor of Judge Jackson. The news of her confirmation was met by standing applause and cheering from the senators, while a small handful of Republicans silently walked out.

Sophomore Aneesha Donakonda said that while she does feel that some of their concerns are justified, she doesn’t think that Republican senators should vote strictly according to party lines. She believed Judge Jackson’s good resumé and history of working well with others is more important than what party she aligns with. “I guess that’s one of the main problems in our government right now,” said Donakonda. “A lot of people, including politicians, are blindly loyal to one group or the other, and there’s not a lot of working together with one another.”