Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Earned Her Seat on the Supreme Court as a Qualified Mother and Professional

Justice Brown Jackson was confirmed to the Supreme Court Thursday, making her the first Black woman to serve on the highest court in the land. She understands the issues that Black families face deeply and we are so proud.

Photo: SAUL LOEB/Getty Images

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is officially the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. She was confirmed Thursday, with a final bipartisan vote of 53-47 in the Senate. Those of us watching at home can't help but notice the historical—and hopefully political—significance of this moment.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has been vocal in his support through the entire process, noted the impact of this moment before the final vote. "In the 233-year history of the Supreme Court, never—never has a Black woman held the title of Justice. Ketanji Brown Jackson will be the first and, I believe, the first of more to come," he said.

Schumer's comments resonate with many. One of the most impactful examples of emotion was the heartfelt moment of Senator Cory Booker's impassioned speech telling her not to allow anyone to steal her joy. "You are a person that is so much more than your race and gender—you are a Christian, you are a mom, you are an intellect, you love books," Booker said. "I see my ancestors and yours. Later he said, "You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American."

It was a particularly significant moment because of the biased undertones of many of the questions she was asked during her hearing.

The truth is Justice Jackson is not only well-qualified with an impressive record that made her the ideal candidate for the role. As a Black woman judge with solid legal experience and a working mother of two, she learned about many of the issues that affect American households deeply. Many hope that she will use her awareness of the struggle to balance parenthood and professionalism to advocate for policies that make things better for U.S. families.

An Arduous Road

Despite being well-qualified—possibility even more so than her peers and predecessors—Justice Jackson's road to confirmation was an arduous process. Viewers noted the differences in her confirmation hearing compared to others. South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham stormed out during the hearing and Texas Senator Ted Cruz asked if she believes babies are racist.

The disrespect she experienced wasn't unnoticed by those watching online. "By cutting her off and attempting to force her into an argument that is not being made, his goal is to elicit an emotional response," tweeted Atlanta-based author Goldie Taylor. "Graham trying to break her temperament which he could/ would then condemn her for."Republican senators' attempts to identify weaknesses in her perspectives on crime, race and identity, and abortion, included an effort to falsely characterize her as lenient on sex offenders who have commited crimes against children. The approach taken by Republicans is one with which Black professionals are painfully familiar.

Despite all of this, Justice Jackson remained calm and collected.

An Example of Working Motherhood

Justice Jackson is a Harvard Law graduate who currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She was raised in Miami, Florida by parents who were public school teachers. Her father eventually became a lawyer and her mother moved on to become a principal. We've seen members of her family throughout the confirmation process.

Her two daughters support her and many of us noticed that her husband became noticeably emotional during the hearings. We're hopeful that her strong family connections prove that she'll support policies that prioritize Black families.

As mother to Talia, 21, and Leila, 17, Jackson has been public and transparent about the effort required to balance motherhood and a professional career. She spoke further to the difficulty of juggling work and home, in response to a question from Senator Cory Booker. This time she addressed her daughters directly, offering a comforting depiction of motherhood.

Justice Jackson spoke of the pressure young women feel when faced with the conflicting demands of "momentous events" of professional life and motherhood. "... I hope for [my daughters] ... seeing me move to the Supreme Court, that they can know you don't have to be perfect in your career trajectory and you can still end up doing what you want to do," she said before continuing. "You just have to understand that there are lots of responsibilities in the world. You don't have to be a perfect mom, but if you do your best and you love your children, things will turn out okay."

The sentiment continues to resonate with millions—especially mothers and caretakers—who find themselves sandwiched between the demands of the workforce and the household, trying to hold it all together.

Hope for Black American Families

We hope her confirmation marks a fresh and inclusive perspective on the issues that families are facing and will be decided by the Supreme Court. Her experience makes it hard to know exactly how Justice Jackson would rule on America's hot button issues like abortion access and affirmative action because Justice Jackson hasn't ruled on an abortion case, for example. Still, her history of having supported reproductive rights groups, efforts to reduce disparities in sentencing for drug penalties, and support for environmental projections and civil rights make experts believe her votes on the Supreme Court will be positive for issues on American health.

All of these issues matter to Black communities who are vulnerable to disparities in all aspects of the criminal justice system, face environmental racism, and numerous barriers to necessary reproductive health services.

As Vice Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Justice Jackson worked to reduce unwarranted disparities in sentencing. She also previously worked as a public defender and is the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court. Her daughter was one of the first to speak about her mother filling a Supreme Court seat following Justice Anthony Scalia's death.

SEnator Cory Booker

"I see my ancestors and yours...You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American."

— SEnator Cory Booker

President Biden acknowledged the significance of this step, and the need for better representation, during Justice Jackson's introduction and the official announcement of her nomination. It won't shift the make up of the court, which has six conservative justices and three liberal justices. Still, it's evidence of slow progress towards a more representative democracy.

"For too long, our government, our courts haven't looked like America," Biden said. "I believe it's time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications, and that we inspire all young people to believe that they can one day serve their country at the highest level."

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation is an important step in the right direction. But it also illuminates much of what's wrong with how we treat Black professionals—especially when they're women.

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