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Ketanji Brown Jackson has earned this moment to make history

Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, is seated to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on pending judicial nominations on April 28, 2021.

Some moments are so consequential that when you try to describe the feelings, words fail. I am overcome with joy about President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson — and I say this both as a Black woman and as an American who values the Constitution.  

As a Black woman in the legal field, hearing the announcement while I was driving my daughter to school filled me with a mixture of joy and hope. This is truly one of the most important moments of my lifetime. For 233 years, Black women have waited for a chance to serve on the highest court in the country. I commend the president for choosing Judge Jackson, who is exceptionally qualified with the experience, character, integrity and dedication to the Constitution and rule of law. With this historic nomination — and hopefully, Senate approval — a closed door has opened.   

As an American and a voter, I could not be more pleased. Despite the attempt by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to link Judge Jackson to the far left, she enjoys a strong reputation as a consensus builder. In civil cases, she has ruled for and against the political administrations of both parties. She was rarely reversed on appeal as a District Court judge after authoring more than 560 opinions. She worked collaboratively with Republicans and Democrats as vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. She clerked for both Republican- and Democratic-appointed judges before clerking for Justice Stephen Breyer. 

In short, Judge Jackson will use her wisdom and deep understanding of the Constitution to uphold the rule of law. Beyond that, she exemplifies an American success story; she worked incredibly hard to get to this day, and I could not be more proud to know her.  

Although Judge Jackson would not change the court’s overall makeup, in terms of justices who lean conservative or liberal, no one should underestimate the value of having justices with exposure to different experiences. In addition to being the first Black woman, Judge Jackson would be the first justice who was a federal public defender. Her brother is a former police officer and veteran, and her uncle was the police chief in Miami. Her experience across the judicial system ensures that she is well-rounded and balanced in her approach to cases involving the Fourth Amendment and criminal procedure.    

It is unquestionable that she is brilliant and immensely qualified. To be on the short list for such a nomination, one cannot be anything less than an extraordinary person. Judge Jackson graduated with honors from Harvard College and Harvard Law School; was an editor for the Harvard Law Review; clerked for Justice Breyer, whose pending retirement could make way for her place on the Supreme Court; and has served as a respected jurist for more than eight years. A review of her opinions, infrequently overturned at the appellate level, shows that she is thorough and deliberate in her approach to the law. 

Judge Jackson was made for this moment in history. I cannot remember how we met at Harvard Law, but I considered her to be a friend. Certainly, if I had suspected then that a short, Black girl from Miami with a name as unique as mine was going to make history, I would have burned the memory of our meeting in my brain. We both entered law school in 1993. In addition to being classmates, we were in the same section together and lived in the same student housing building, North Hall. We were both active with the Harvard Black Law Students Association, and we saw each other outside of Cambridge, Mass., because my grandparents lived in the Liberty City area of Miami. I remember Judge Jackson and her father visiting me before our first set of final exams.  

When we were in law school, first-year students took final exams after the Christmas break — in other words, Harvard Law managed to ruin Christmas. I worked hard at school, but Judge Jackson had a next-level focus and drive. I thought of her as petite but mighty. Everyone there was smart, but she came across as beyond smart. She had a big, beautiful smile and a joyful laugh. She was kind and down to earth. Being brilliant and down to earth is not a combination I often encountered while at Harvard Law School, and being a kind person is not a trivial detail.  Kindness dictates her judicial temperament. Judge Jackson treats people with respect and is a good listener, which are crucial attributes to persuasion.  

Her nomination should be a moment of joy and excitement for the entire country. It is particularly exciting for Black women, and the fact that Judge Jackson wears her hair in braids and has a decidedly ethnic name is particularly inspiring. She will be an amazing role model for all children.   

President Biden fulfilled his promise to nominate the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. In making that promise, he followed the footsteps of President Ronald Reagan, who nominated the first woman justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, and an Italian American, the late Antonin Scalia. When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, former President Trump quickly said he would nominate a woman and he chose Justice Amy Coney Barrett.  

Rather than question President Biden’s decision to address the exclusion of Black women from the Supreme Court, I challenge the public to question why someone as qualified as Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was not nominated years ago.  

Njeri Mathis Rutledge is a professor of law at South Texas College of Law Houston. She is a former prosecutor and former municipal court judge. Follow her on Twitter @NjeriRutledge.

Tags Amy Coney Barrett Biden Supreme Court nominee Donald Trump Harvard Law School Joe Biden Jurists Ketanji Brown Jackson Mitch McConnell Ruth Bader Ginsburg Stephen Breyer Supreme Court of the United States

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