Why the Supreme Court needs Ketanji Brown Jackson

Justice equals respect.   

That’s the organizing principle of my legal work and advocacy. It’s the reason so many of us get up every day and fight as hard as we do to hold the powerful accountable and to bring this nation closer to meeting its yet unkept promises. 

The nation is on the cusp of fulfilling one of those promises. President Biden and Vice President Harris have pledged, and appear to be considering, an African American woman for the Supreme Court. 

In my view, that of a civil rights lawyer and advocate who is committed to bringing justice, respect and fairness to this nation, and particularly to my community, that woman is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.   

But first some context.   

One hundred fifteen Americans have served on the Supreme Court since 1789. But not a single African American woman.   

It’s time. Long past time. The process of publicly reviewing potential candidates has revealed what many of us have known for some time, and now all of America can see: The talent is extraordinary. We do not have a supply problem of experienced, brilliant Black women who are ready to be stewards of our Constitution, we have a demand problem. 

Black women attorneys manage firms, sit as judges at every level of government, run agencies, Fortune 100 corporations and keep us safe from war. They have constructed the strategies to ensure our civil rights, provide equal protection and combat crime.   

There should be, and someday will be, no limit on the number of African American women sitting on this important court, at once, as has been the status quo for white men for centuries.   

But for today’s pick, that African American woman, that attorney and judge and mother, and daughter should be Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. 

Her biography is credentialed and stellar. She is perhaps the most experienced judge to be considered in recent memory, in that she has been a District Court and Circuit Court judge for nine years. There will be no learning curve for Jackson; she knows the law, has adjudicated it well and is battle-tested. Jackson has the educational credentials and commitment which put her in an elite with which the court is familiar, having the same credentials as most of the modern justices, if not more. 

My standards for this nominee go beyond integrity, brilliance and fairness. I carry the additional purchase that this justice must represent African Americans in a way that has cultural competency, forcefulness and instills deep pride. Justice Sotomayor clearly inspires and provides vision to America’s Hispanic community. Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg are heroes for women across the ideological spectrum. We African Americans eagerly await and demand that model: a talented African American woman who not only acts justly and upholds our Constitution but is rooted in an experience that so many of us share. 

That person is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Being from Florida, I’ve known of and admired her personal story for a decade. Both of her parents are graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities — North Carolina Central and Tuskegee. One of her uncles is a city of Miami police chief, another uncle was incarcerated for years and her aunt was a dedicated missionary who made several trips to Africa. In fact, it is that aunt, Carolynn Tucker, who on a Peace Corp assignment in Liberia, offered the name “Ketanji Onyika” to her parents, which she was told means “lovely one.” 

Jackson has always been an achiever, from national debate championships in high school to elite campuses to prestigious jobs, serving as a public defender and clerking for the Supreme Court itself for Justice Breyer, whom I’m hoping she replaces. But through it all, she’s been an advocate for and proud of the African American community. She was active in the Black Students Association in college, in the Black Law Students organization in law school, and she has represented Black people throughout her career, from mentoring, hiring Black clerks as a judge and forcefully speaking out in favor of saner criminal sentencing policies in her role on the United States Sentencing Commission. 

And I know Jackson directly from our teaching and mentoring together serving as mentors for the next generation of lawyers. We have twice taught a seminar at Harvard’s Trial Advocacy Workshop. An intensive week where we were paired up to teach students the ins and outs of the courtroom, from our very different professional perspectives. She is radiant, clear, and engaging. She is humble and gracious, pointing out to the students my advocacy on behalf of the least among us, with obvious pride. She invoked my work for the family of Trayvon Martin, underscoring for the students the importance of representation and skilled advocacy. 

We thank Biden and Harris for this important decision, and Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and his late wife Emily for pressing the president to commit to this historic move.    

For the combination of brilliance, integrity, experience and assurance that African Americans will hold this choice as we do the memory of Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley, I overwhelmingly support the historic choice of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.   

Ben Crump is a nationally known civil rights attorney and advocate and is the founder and principal of Ben Crump Law. Crump has represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Martin Lee Anderson, and Breonna Taylor. www.bencrump.com.

Tags Benjamin Crump Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden Judges of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia Ketanji Brown Jackson Ketanji Brown Jackson lawyers Sonia Sotomayor Supreme Court of the United States United States Sentencing Commission

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