On the Issues with Michele Goodwin

55. Road to Confirmation: President Biden Nominates Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson! What’s Next? (with Danielle Holley-Walker)


February 28, 2022

With Guests:

  • Danielle Holley-Walker is the Dean and a professor of law of Howard Law School, and a former clerk for Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart on the 5th Circuit. Her research focuses on the governance of public schools, and diversity in the legal profession.

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In this Episode:

President Biden has announced Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the nominee to succeed Justice Stephen Breyer on the United States Supreme Court.  Who is she?  What’s her background? And why is she one of the most qualified and prepared nominees that this process has seen in nearly a century? In this episode, we unpack Judge Jackson’s qualifications and examine what’s next in the process.

This episode is the second installment of our Road to Confirmation series. “On the Issues” will be taking you through each step of the confirmation process as it happens in real time, with commentary and analysis from experts.  

Have a topic you’d like us to delve into, a guest recommendationor just want to say hi? Drop us a line at ontheissues@msmagazine.com.

Background Reading:

Listen to the previous episode in our “Road to Confirmation” series: Road to Confirmation: Biden Promised a Black Woman Supreme Court Nominee. Now What?



Michele Goodwin: 

Welcome to fifteen minutes of feminism, part of our “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. Magazine platform. You know this is a show where we report, rebel, and tell it just like it is, and on Fifteen Minutes of Feminism, we take you through a deep and substantive dive with a quick take. 

So, on today’s show, it’s the second installment on the Road to Confirmation series. We’ll be following the confirmation process of President Biden’s nominee, which is Judge Ketanji Jackson, to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the United States Supreme Court. 

“On the Issues” is taking you through each step of the confirmation process as it happens in real time, with commentary and analysis from experts. This week, I’m joined by Dean Danielle Holley-Walker of Howard University Law School, and we’ll also be hearing from Professor Steven Vladeck. 

Dean Danielle Holley-Walker, thank you for being back with me and for our Fifteen Minutes of Feminism platform, and what a day in history this is. February 25, 2022 is the day in which Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is nominated by President Biden to serve on the United States Supreme Court. What’s your take on that? 


Dean Danielle Holley-Walker: 

So, first, I’m so grateful to be here with you this afternoon on such a historic day to see the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Just an incredibly qualified brilliant jurist to serve on the Supreme Court. It’s been an extraordinary day, and I’m looking forward to, hopefully, a confirmation process that is reflective of the high caliber judge that she really is. 

Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., on April 28, 2021. (Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images / POOL)


Michele Goodwin:

Well, she certainly deserves to have a confirmation process that is dignified, and that flows with integrity, and without stereotype and stigma, but there are concerns that the waters have already been muddied, and that they may be muddied even more, and to that, we’re going to take a quick listen, right now, to Steve Vladeck as he shares with us a bit about her qualifications. 


Steven Vladeck: 

Michele, I’m not one who thinks that prior judicial experience is the sinequanon of qualifications, but for those who want to say that it is, let’s be clear about Judge Jackson’s experience. She has already just under nine years of experience as a federal judge. That’s more than four of the current justices. Justices Thomas, Roberts, Kagan, and Barrett combined when they were confirmed. It’s more than four of the last ten justices. It’s more than nine of the last 17. It’s more than 43 of the 58 appointed since 1900. So, you know, I don’t think it should be the case that judicial experience is a prerequisite for a Supreme Court appointment. I think we have plenty of examples of fantastic justices who had very little prior judicial experience, if any, but for those who want to make this a talking point, I mean, like every other relevant benchmark you know, Judge Jackson is way over the mark. 


Michele Goodwin:  

One other area, Steve, and I really appreciate you bringing that to the floor, because that data is critical, she also represents a difference on the court, just in terms of her academic background before college even. Can you tell us a little bit about that? 


Steven Vladeck: 

Yeah. I mean you know, she went to the sort of the public school system, right, she’s a product of a public-school education, which fewer and fewer of the justices are. You know, to me, Michele, that’s part of the story here, but also, I would say, like she has such experience as a criminal defense lawyer. I mean, right, there’s never been a public defender on the Supreme Court. Eight of the nine current justices have never tried a case, only Justice Sotomayor, who was a prosecutor, and so you know, to me when people use the word diversity to refer to Judge Jackson, I think it goes so much further than the fact that she’d be the first Black woman on the court. 

It’s that she would add so many experiences, so many perspectives such, I think, a sort of important rounding out of our legal system, that you know, is not going to move the court overnight. We’re not going to see an immediate shift in the courts center of gravity, but it’s impossible to sort of conclude that it won’t have some kind of long-term impact, that the relationships she builds with her colleagues won’t you know, move them much the same way that Justices O’Connor and Ginsberg, right, moved their colleagues on questions of sex discrimination and sex equality. 

So, I think it’s a really exciting pick, not just because of the landmark nature of it, but because Judge Jackson’s resume is diversifying the court in so many other rich, important, and to my mind, neglected respects. 


Michele Goodwin:

So, what do you think of what we just heard from Professor Steven Vladeck? 


Dean Danielle Holley-Walker: 

I think it’s important for us to remember that for most people in the United States, although all of us are legal experts, for most people in the United States, this is the first day that they’ve ever heard of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, and because of that, it’s incredibly important that we do talk about her qualifications, as we would for any Supreme Court nominee. She is an honors graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. She grew up in a modest circumstance in Miami, Florida, to parents who grew up in segregation. She has an incredible breath of legal experience, private practice at Morrison and Foerster. She served on the sentencing commission, and I think one of the most important facts about her, she would be the first ever Supreme Court Justice to have been a public defender. The people in our legal community who really defend the rights, the constitutional rights of those who have been charged with a crime, and I think that, that is one of the most important pieces of public service that you can do, but I think we have to really remember that most people are not as absorbed in this as we are, and so, we need to speak very carefully and clearly about what Judge Jackson has done since the time she was a teenager to prepare herself for this moment, including clerking for Justice Breyer. 


Michele Goodwin: 

Well, that’s awfully interesting isn’t, too, because this vacancy will become available because it’s Justice Stephen Breyer who has announced his retirement from the court, and now, I wonder what you think of that, I mean, should that be remembered and recorded in history, that even if it’s subtle, that perhaps Justice Breyer has also opened the door just a little bit. 


Dean Danielle Holley-Walker: 

I think when we talk about the first Black woman to be nominated, I think we expected that there would be a tax on her qualifications. We saw a lot of that before there was a nominee. A kind of generalized doubt about whether this nominee would be qualified. One of the things that her clerking on the Supreme Court tells us is that she has been intentional in her preparation for this moment, and that many people who want to ascend to the level of a federal judge, or ultimately to the Supreme Court, take that step of clerking, and she’s clerked three times. So, she clerked District Court, Appellate Court, and Supreme Court. She’s prepared, and she’s been working at this for a long time, and I think that, that will resonate with a lot of people in our country who set out, had big dreams, and were from circumstances in which those dreams weren’t very clear about how you would get there, and then worked intentionally step by step, and that, I think, is really Judge Jackson’s story. 


Michele Goodwin: 

That is Judge Jackson’s story, and as you’ve mentioned, it is a story that includes that level of preparation, but also a commitment to criminal justice, and some people might see that as antithetical, because after all, she will be the first Justice on the court if confirmed, and we believe that she will be, who has served as a public defender. 


Dean Danielle Holley-Walker: 

I think, when we talk about diversity, and this is why I’m loving this moment so much. It’s obviously a moment to talk about intersectionality, to talk about what it means to be a Black woman, but it’s a moment about the diversity of experience that we see on the court. As professor Vladeck talked about, very few of our Supreme Court Justices have been trial court judges and appellate court judges. She will be the first to have this experience as a public defender. Very few have had the experience of working private sector, public sector, and having judicial experience. It’s amazing. 

I cannot even imagine most people having done what Judge Jackson has done, and she’s only 51 years old. So, the level, and I think that came through today in her remarks, which I really encourage people, if you did not watch her remarks today, to go back and watch her remarks when she’s being introduced by President Biden. She’s a mother, she’s a wife, she is a really funny public speaker, a really engaging public speaker, and I loved her reference to Constance Baker Motley. I think that’s the moment where I got texts from people around the country, and now people of all races, all backgrounds saying how touched they were at her paying tribute to a foremother, to Constance Baker Motely in this important moment in her career. 


Michele Goodwin:

And so, before we quickly turn to what’s next, I actually want to stay on that important point that you’ve just made, and I’m so happy that you are with me, because we’re a country that, unfortunately, has rarely seen, if ever, that Indigenous people, Black people, Asian-American people, are foremothers and forefathers, right, the foremothers and forefathers by design, and it seems by default, are always white, but America has amazing foreparents who represent people of color, who are people of color, who were people of color, and that’s an important point that you’ve just made. 


Dean Danielle Holley-Walker: 

It really touched me today to hear you know, the story even of her parents where she talked about her father, who worked and put himself through law school, and also that you know, we recognize that this moment would not be possible without people like Shirley Chisholm, incredible lawyers like Pauli Murray and Constance Baker Motley, and I think we’re now at a moment in our country’s history in which we can clearly say that there are those of us who the people who inspired us to be where we are today look like us, and we can actually name them when there is a moment like this important one where she could have named many people, and she did. She named all of the judges she clerked for, she thanked Justice Breyer, but she also said one of the things that inspired her was sharing a birthday with the first Black woman ever to serve in the federal judiciary, Constance Baker Motley, and to me, that was very intentional, and also demonstrated that there were women before her, Black women before her, who were qualified to be on the Supreme Court, who never got the opportunity, and likely they never got the opportunity because of their race and gender. 

And so, when she’s stepping into this moment, it’s not because she’s a Black woman, it is her braking a barrier that other Black women have not had the opportunity to break because the door was never open for them. 


Michele Goodwin:

Well, that’s an important point that you make, because even the United States Supreme Court has been a barrier to women being able to advance in the law. Bradwell vs. Illinois, a case in which the United States Supreme Court upholds a law that bars women from becoming lawyers. A case in which a woman wants to practice with her husband, has actually graduated from law school, and Illinois law that says women are not allowed to become lawyers, and the US Supreme Court upholding that law. 

The US Supreme Court saying that women were destined for the home, and that the laws of nature govern that, and there is you know, there is no nature ringing the phone to justices or sending a magic scroll saying this is what we decided, but this is what the Supreme Court decided, and that was what legislators decided, and so, those barriers were real, and it’s great to now see those barriers falling away, and your point is so well taken, that what we’ve had before are segregated institutions, and our Supreme Court being one of them. 

So, what’s going to happen going forward with the confirmation process, how do you think this is going to go?


Dean Danielle Holley-Walker: 

So, we know that she’s received bipartisan confirmation multiple times. This will be her third confirmation. She’s had a confirmation to the District Court and to the Appellate Court to the DC circuit. They were both done on bipartisan votes. So, what we would think is that her nomination should proceed with a bipartisan vote, but we also have seen over the last decade, and really before that, that how politicized this process has really become, and so, I think the next step is obviously for her to meet with senators. We haven’t heard a lot yet, substantively I’m sure we’ll get some of that on the Sunday morning shows. We haven’t heard the talking points yet, except for this claim that she is somehow especially liberal leaning when we know that is not true, but instead she is… 


Michele Goodwin: 

There’s the terminology of radical being used. There seems to be, right, just a kind of dog whistle. 


Dean Danielle Holley-Walker: 

Yeah. And I also think it is one of those things that will be proven false, even with just a small bit of scrutiny, and I also think if you saw her today, in her opening remarks, we have a preview of what will likely be a masterful handling of her confirmation hearing, and I know she will be well prepared. She will meet with senators starting next week. Any senator who wants to meet with her, in person, will have the opportunity to meet with her next week, and I think any senator with an open mind, and an open heart, and an understanding of the credentials, and let’s face it, a lot of these senators voted for Justice Amy Coney Barrett less than two years ago, and I would put their resumes side by side and ask the question to any senator, why would you vote for Judge Barrett and not vote for Judge Jackson, how could you vote for Judge Gorsuch, and not vote for Judge Jackson? 

I think her resume, if we were talking about facts and credentials, and again, that’s very important, and I think we need to, of course, educate the public on what are her credentials because seeing her credentials, she’s everything that any person who is a defender of the Constitution would want to see in a Supreme Court Justice. If we opened up the book on Supreme Court Justice, her face would be right there. 


Michele Goodwin:

Her picture should be there. 


Dean Danielle Holley-Walker: 

Her picture would be there in the dictionary under the kind of qualifications that you should have for a Supreme Court Justice. So, again, I echo your comments in that we want to see a respectful, and fair, and unbiased process, which is a reflection of the hard work, and high qualifications that she has, and I hope that we see her confirmed in a bipartisan vote. I think anything less than that would be below the standards for how the Senate should perform the advice and consent process. That’s a strong statement, but I stand by it in the sense that I believe her qualifications and her, just unimpeachable ethics, she’s also knowns as a highly, highly ethical judge, thoughtful person, and highly prepared. I just hope that this is a confirmation hearing that reflects all of that. 


Michele Goodwin:

Well, we will circle back with you, and with some of our fellow travelers as we cover this confirmation process, The road to confirmation series that we’ve launched, and I’m so happy that you were a part of our first conversation, that you’re here with me for the second, and I want to close out this interview by asking you, what in all of this do you see as the silver lining? 


Dean Danielle Holley-Walker: 

One of the incredible silver linings to me is that every time we break a glass ceiling, there are women, there are men, there are girls, there are boys all over this country, who for the first time say, you know, I may be the first one to do something, and I can do it, right, there may be a young woman right now who’s sitting at home and says, wait a second, she in all of these years, hundreds of years of the Supreme Court, is now the first Black woman nominee, why don’t I become the first of something else, or I can become the second, or the third, of another field which has very few Black women in it, and so, that to me is one of the takeaways, but also, just to see this woman celebrated today, even if we know the process is going to be much more difficult, but to see her there today with President Biden, and also with the first Black woman and woman of Indian descent. To see her there with Vice President Kamala Harris. It was an incredibly moving and special moment, and I hope that we don’t lose that in all of this. 

Vice President Kamala Harris and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson with President Biden as he announces Jackson as his pick for the Supreme Court. (Screenshot from White House)

The historic nature of what we saw today is very important, and should lift us up in a dark time in our country, because obviously, things are very difficult, and today was one of the first times that I really had a genuine smile in quite a few weeks, about something that was happening in our public discourse and in our government, and it really should be a moment for Americans of all backgrounds to celebrate having such an outstanding Supreme Court nominee. 


Michele Goodwin: 

Dean Danielle Holley-Walker, I want to thank you for joining me, and I want to thank you for your message about the importance of joy, and the importance of not letting folks steal our joy including in these times. Thank you, so much, for joining me. I really appreciate it. 


Dean Danielle Holley-Walker:

Thanks, so much. 


Michele Goodwin:

Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s Fifteen Minutes of Feminism episode. I want to thank my guest Dean Danielle Holley-Walker, and I also want to thank my good friend Professor Steven Vladeck for dropping by our virtual studio, bringing you our road to confirmation series. You’ll be hearing much more from us on the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Jackson, and to our listeners, I want to thank you for tuning in for the full story.

We hope that you’re going to join us again for our next episode where we’re always reporting, rebelling, and you know, we’re telling it just like it is, and if you want to learn more about what we discussed today and follow our confirmation series, then check in at MsMagazine.com, and if you believe, as we do, that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America and being unbought, and unbossed, and reclaiming our time are important, than be sure to rate and review our Fifteen Minutes of Feminism, the “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” podcast, and we are everywhere, Apple podcast, iHeart Radio, Google podcast, Stitcher. Wherever you listen, we are there. 

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This has been your host, Michele Goodwin, reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is. “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is a Ms. Magazine joint production, just like Fifteen Minutes of Feminism. Michele Goodwin and Kathy Spillar are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal and Oliver Haug. Our social media intern is Lillian LaSalle. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandy Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Kyle Goode, and music by Chris J. Lee. Social media assistance from Lillian LaSalle.