Why Latinos should support Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmation

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson participates in a photo op with Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) prior to their meeting on Thursday, March 10, 2022.
Greg Nash

With confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson set for next week, Republicans do not seem to have settled on a strategy to oppose Biden’s pick for the Supreme Court. They would be wise to avoid attacking her, as the historic nature of Jackson’s nomination has been widely celebrated by African Americans and women. But what about Latinos, the country’s largest ethnic minority group?

There are actually strong reasons why Latinos should support Jackson’s nomination as well. Her professional and personal experience indicate that she is familiar with our communities. On issues like immigration, Jackson is thoughtful and faithful to the law. Plus, her nomination is supported by myriad Latino advocacy groups and by most Latinos.

Jackson will bring valuable insight to the court. She is a product of public schools and a two-time Harvard graduate. She hails from Miami, a majority-Latino city, and these roots give her valuable perspective on the diversity of American lives. Her work as a public defender and on the U.S. Sentencing Commission is especially important because Latinos disproportionately interact with the criminal justice system — and because Supreme Court decisions often play a major role in defining the constitutional rights of defendants. If confirmed, Jackson would be the only current justice with significant work representing poor defendants.

Then there is Jackson’s record on immigration. While the Supreme Court does not make immigration policy, in recent years it has had an outsized role in shaping it. This stems from both congressional inaction and repeated legal challenges to presidential moves on the issue.

As the National Immigration Law Center has pointed out, in her opinions Jackson has generally avoided terms like “aliens” and “illegals,” a semantic choice that acknowledges the basic humanity of migrants. Her immigration record itself is quite balanced. In Kiakombua v. Wolf (2020), Jackson found that the government used unlawful Trump administration guidelines to rule on asylum cases, and in Make the Road New York v. McAleenan (2019), she ruled against the Trump administration’s attempt to expand its expedited removal program for migrants. But that same year, in Center for Biological Diversity v. McAleenan, Jackson dismissed a lawsuit brought by environmental groups challenging Trump’s border wall. So, no one can say she favors “open borders.” 

In her relatively short time on the national stage, Jackson’s nomination has drawn praise from an array of Latino civic and legal organizations. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Hispanic Federation, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and UnidosUS have all hailed her credentials and public service. Their positions reflect the fact that most Latinos want to see Jackson on the high court. According to a February Politico/Morning Consult poll, by a three-to-one margin Latinos believe that Jackson should be confirmed: 51 percent of Latinos think she should be confirmed, compared with 17 percent who think she should not be. This same survey revealed that majorities of Latinos described themselves as “happy” and “hopeful” about Jackson’s nomination.

True, not all Latinos support Biden’s selection for the high court. Alfonso Aguilar, the head of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, told Fox News Digital that Jackson “has aggressively worked to promote a woke agenda.” Yet he did not cite any specific case or rulings as evidence of what he termed Jackson’s “radical leftist views.” That’s because such a record does not exist; Aguilar’s criticism is just predictable partisan sniping.

In fact, Jackson has not made any decisions on hot-button issues like abortion or race. Last year, when she went through the confirmation process to be on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) asked her if she believed that our criminal justice system was systemically racist or infected with racism and bias. “There is no Supreme Court doctrine that speaks to systemic racism,” Jackson answered, noting that those “aren’t words that I’ve ever used in a court of law to make claims based under the constitution or the applicable statutes.” Her neutral answer bespeaks a high regard for the rule of law.

In the future, Supreme Court cases on affirmative action, health care access, and voting rights will have a profound effect on Latino communities. Jackson’s record shows that she will be an able jurist on the high court and a voice for Latinos and other people of color. She deserves a swift and fair confirmation.

Raul A. Reyes is an immigration attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he is also a contributor to NBCNews.com and CNN Opinion. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaulAReyes, Instagram: raulareyes1.

Tags Biden Supreme Court nominee Black and Latino communities criminal justice system Hispanic and Latino American politics Josh Hawley Ketanji Brown Jackson Ketanji Brown Jackson Supreme Court nomination Latino voters Public defender Supreme Court of the United States

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