When confirmed to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will become the U.S.’s first Black woman Supreme Court justice—continuing to disrupt the exclusion of Black women from the federal bench.
This article was originally published on The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights blog.
On March 21, 1965, thousands of courageous marchers left Selma, Alabama, headed to the capital city of Montgomery in their quest for the freedom to vote. Their march—permitted by Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr., who sat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama—ended with a speech by Dr. King that asked: “How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Fifty-seven years later—on March 21, 2022—the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider, for the first time, the nomination of a Black woman to serve on the highest court in our nation. The four-day hearing, like the multi-day march from Selma decades earlier, represents yet another piece of this country’s long struggle for a more inclusive democracy. And like that march—which resulted in swift passage of the Voting Rights Act—the impact and outcome of this month’s hearings will reverberate for decades to come.
President Biden’s nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, has a broad and impressive legal career that demonstrates her commitment to civil and human rights. And during her time as a judge—first on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and then on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit—she has earned a stellar reputation for being an outstanding, fair-minded arbiter of justice.
Last June, Jackson became the first Black woman in nearly a decade to be confirmed to a federal appellate court and just the ninth Black woman ever confirmed to this level of our federal judiciary. When she is confirmed to serve as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, she will become our nation’s first Black woman Supreme Court justice—breaking barriers and continuing to disrupt the historic exclusion of Black women from the entire federal bench.
At her nomination ceremony, Jackson revealed that she shares a birthday with another barrier-breaking Black woman: civil rights lawyer Constance Baker Motley—the first Black woman in the United States confirmed to a federal judgeship.
“We were born exactly 49 years to the day apart,” Jackson said. “Today, I proudly stand on Judge Motley’s shoulders, sharing not only her birthday, but also her steadfast and courageous commitment to equal justice under law.”
JUDGE JACKSON: “As it happens, I share a birthday with the first Black woman ever to be appointed as a federal judge…Today, I proudly stand on Judge Motley’s shoulders, sharing not only her birthday, but also her steadfast and courageous commitment to equal justice under law.” pic.twitter.com/lYn0kDAViR— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) February 25, 2022
President Johnson nominated Judge Motley less than a year after the Selma-to-Montgomery march and just five-and-a-half months after he signed the Voting Rights Act into law. The following year, Johnson nominated another civil rights lawyer—Thurgood Marshall—to serve as the first Black Supreme Court justice.
Fifty-five years after Thurgood Marshall’s historic confirmation, Jackson will be the first justice since Justice Marshall’s retirement in 1991 with any significant criminal defense experience, and she will be the only Supreme Court justice to have ever served as a public defender. Public defenders play a critical role in our legal system, protecting the constitutional rights of people who cannot afford lawyers, but they remain vastly underrepresented on the federal bench.
To ensure equal justice and protect and advance civil rights, we need fair-minded, empathetic justices on our nation’s highest court who come from all walks of life and who represent and reflect the rich diversity of our nation. Jackson is dedicated to equal justice for all and brings critical perspectives that are missing from our Supreme Court, including her service as a public defender.
This is why the civil and human rights community strongly endorses Jackson’s confirmation. On Thursday, we released a letter—signed by 186 other organizations—calling on senators to support Jackson, saying “The nomination of Judge Jackson marks a significant historic and long overdue milestone for our country.”
More than five decades after the confirmations of Justice Marshall and Judge Motley, this historic moment has finally arrived.
As Jackson said in March 2021 while accepting Columbia Law School’s Constance Baker Motley Award for empowering women of color lawyers and advancing the rights of people of color, “We are now charged with the responsibility … of doing the work that is necessary to protect the rule of law and to promote equality and justice for all.”
That important responsibility—working towards equal justice for all—is an essential duty of our judicial branch. Jackson’s record powerfully demonstrates that she is extraordinarily qualified to render that justice on the Supreme Court.