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Ketanji Brown Jackson’s story is a triumph of American progress

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) participate in a photo op prior to their meeting on Tuesday, March 15, 2022.
Greg Nash

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s statement at the White House upon her nomination to serve as Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court — flanked by President Biden and Vice President Harris — was profound. Profound not only because of what Judge Jackson said but also for what her nomination says about our country in this time when our democracy feels fragile and democracy as a form of government is under attack around the world. 

Judge Jackson spoke with humility, candor and warmth about who she is: Black; a woman; daughter of public school teachers; wife of a cancer surgeon; mother of two; related to distinguished law enforcement officers and also to a family member who got entangled in the law; experienced jurist; former law clerk to Justice Stephen G. Breyer; and a person who is standing on the shoulders of great trailblazers such as Judge Constance Baker Motley.

The Supreme Court will be better with her as a member. In addition to Judge Jackson’s lived experience, distinguished career in private practice, trial and appellate judicial experience, and service on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, for the first time we have a Supreme Court nominee with federal public defender experience. This is significant, given the volume of petitions the Court receives from the indigent, many of them pro se, which I saw firsthand during my clerkship with Justice Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court.

But it was her point — that she feels blessed to have been born in the United States of America — that in these times bears emphasis. For a woman descendant of enslaved people to achieve all that she has achieved thus far; her talent, experience, and many contributions to be fulsomely recognized; and then to be nominated to serve as a judge on the highest court of our land — an institution that has been overwhelming dominated by white men and in a country which (including by law) denied Black people’s humanity and excluded women from the legal profession for centuries — is truly remarkable. Where else in the world could this happen? 

Her nomination is a shot in the arm to the democratic experiment that Justice Breyer celebrated in his retirement announcement. He reminded us in his statement at the White House that our form of government exists and persists because we believe it is better than the alternatives (i.e., authoritarianism, military rule, arbitrary rule etc.). Notwithstanding the marred, messy and sometimes vicious aspects of our past and present, here we are to see President Biden, with Vice President Harris’ input and support, nominate an exceptional talent in Judge Jackson to the United States Supreme Court. 

As a Black American woman had the honor to clerk for Justice Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court and for Judge Ann C. Williams, a Black woman and trailblazer who served for decades with distinction on the federal bench, it is a truly inspiring moment.  And as a child of U.S. diplomats who grew up around the world and witnessed first-hand democracies torn asunder by war, the specialness of our democracy remains in sharp focus.

Seeing is believing. And seeing helps us all believe. We see you Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. And the world sees us and the democracy we can be.

Philippa Scarlett, former law clerk to Justice Stephen G. Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court (2007-2008) and to Judge Ann C. Williams, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (2004).
Tags Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Biden Supreme Court candidates Jurists Ketanji Brown Jackson Ketanji Brown Jackson Law clerk Stephen Breyer Supreme Court of the United States United States Sentencing Commission

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