Ketanji Brown Jackson’s swearing-in a ‘monumental moment’ for Black women

Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

In a historic moment on Thursday, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the nation’s first Black female justice to the Supreme Court.

Wearing a dark blue dress and low strappy heels, Jackson beamed at those gathered to watch Thursday. Her husband Patrick Jackson and their two daughters, Talia and Leila, were among those gathered. 

Jackson spoke clearly as Chief Justice John Roberts administered the constitutional oath and Justice Stephen Breyer the judicial oath.

For Tristin Brown, policy director for the People’s Parity Project, Thursday’s ceremony was an emotional one. 

“As a Black woman in 2022, I honestly did not think that we would get to a place where we would be confirming our first Black woman justice on the Supreme Court, which is sad to say,” said Brown. “I feel really fortunate to be alive to have witnessed this moment and to one day be able to convey that experience and those emotions to my children and future generations.”

Jackson, who replaces Breyer, was nominated by President Biden in February and confirmed by the Senate in a 53-47 vote in April. 

Biden had made a campaign promise that should a court seat be vacated during his presidency, he would nominate a Black woman to fill the seat.

For Brown, the message that Black women belong “front and center” will have a resounding effect on young Black women and girls.

“For young black girls, and especially those who are thinking about going to law school and pursuing a career in law, being able to see that hard work can actually translate into being put on the highest court in the land is something that I think will be extremely impactful and meaningful for future generations,” said Brown.

Chicagoan Bry’Shawna Walker is one of those young women. 

For 20-year-old Walker, Thursday was a “monumental moment” that she can’t wait to watch again with her mother and grandmother. 

But it’s also made her reflect on what it means to live in America as a Black woman.

“Malcolm X says the Black woman is the most disrespected and unprotected,” Walker said. “Now we have someone in this institution that has historically and continually oppressed Black people and Black women. Now we have someone who has a seat at this table to help protect some of those voices that have never been in the room.”

In a statement, NAACP president Derrick Johnson said he was “excited” to call Jackson “justice.” 

“Not only do we finally have a Black woman on the bench, but a highly qualified professional who will represent Black women, and all Americans, well,” he said. “Jackson will bring much more than a vote in Supreme Court decisions, she will bring her voice. And in the wake of such far-right extremism poisoning our nation’s highest court, she will bring a voice — and a vote — of compassion, respect for human rights, and honor for the rule of law.”

Jackson was sworn in after a dramatic week of protests around the country following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending decades of abortion rights. That decision was made with the three liberal justices — Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Breyer — dissenting. 

With Jackson replacing Breyer, the ideological makeup of the bench isn’t expected to change, and that worries Walker.

“The reality of the situation is, at this moment in time, the Republicans have stacked the court and it’s not balanced and that is a very dangerous time for democracy in America,” said Walker. “I fear that people will blame her when things don’t immediately get better, especially those who don’t understand the courts and the way that they work.”

Still, that doesn’t make Thursday’s ceremony any less meaningful, especially for women and girls of color, said Vida Johnson, professor of law at Georgetown University.

“We know that representation matters,” Johnson said. “She’s brilliant and brings this important demographic diversity to the court.”

Johnson, a former public defender, was especially excited to finally see a former public defender on the nation’s highest court. 

“Because she’s a former public defender, she has seen our most vulnerable communities prosecuted and imprisoned by the United States,” Johnson said. “She absolutely knows what it’s like to be on an uneven playing field and she knows what it’s like to be the underdog. 

“As a Black woman, and as a former public defender, she has seen the subjugation of the least powerful by the most powerful in this country,” she added.

Johnson said with Jackson joining the court at a time of deep polarization, she expects Brown to dissent from the conservative majority quite often. 

Between overturning Roe v. Wade, upholding a Louisiana voting map many claimed was racially biased and limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s federal authority, the court is seen as increasingly unpopular with many voters.

“We should be celebrating because we deserve joy,” Brown said. “We should also remain vigilant and cognizant of the work that lies ahead of us and, after we’re done celebrating, commit ourselves to continuing to work and organize around reforming this institution that has gone completely off the rails, quite frankly.”

Tags Biden Derrick Johnson Joe Biden John Roberts Ketanji Brown Jackson Stephen Breyer

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