Celebrating Ketanji Brown Jackson
The historic nature of this nomination and her remarkable quality could not be ruined by attention-hungry Republican Senators
An emotional New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker said it well this week: "I’m not gonna let my joy be stolen…Nobody’s taking this away from me."
He had much more to say about the historic nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson—bringing tears to her eyes—and how it caused him to reflect on the life of his heroine, who he called “my icon of America,” Harriet Tubman. Seeing Jackson sitting there, he said, “I see my ancestors and yours.”
“Don't worry, my sister. Don't worry,” Booker continued. “God has got you. How do I know that? Because you're here and I know what it's taken for you to sit in that seat."
It was just the antidote needed after the constant bullying, disruptions and demeaning of this brilliant jurist and Black woman by Republican Senators. Their desperate need to appeal to their base and land a nasty soundbite to secure a slot on Fox was their highest priority—no matter how much they degraded their office and ditched their constitutional duty to learn from this Supreme Court nominee in order to advise and consent.
Consider this question from North Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, a question that he thought was appropriate, even sensical, to ask a Supreme Court nominee, a job applicant: “On a scale of one to 10, how faithful would you say you are, in terms of religion?”
Or Ted Cruz, waving a children’s book and demanding to know if she thinks “babies are racist.” Or Cruz and Missouri’s Josh Hawley, with sleazy insinuation, suggesting that Judge Jackson—who has served as a public defender—is soft in sentencing cases involving child pornography. The sweaty Texas senator felt the need to depict materials involving “sadomasochistic images of infants and toddlers.”
“No one’s going to steal my joy,” an exuberant Corey Booker said, sounding like an impassioned preacher. Indeed, indeed. The arrival of this extraordinary judge and person is a reason to celebrate.
Consider her own words, full of gratitude and love for her family—her hard-working parents married for 53 years, her brother who worked as a police officer and volunteered for the Army after 9/11, her loving husband, her two daughters—and love for her country.
In her opening statement this week, she gave voice to that central idea of the American Dream, which too often can seem old-fashioned or, worse, outmoded or gone: “My parents taught me that, unlike the many barriers that they had had to face growing up, my path was clearer, such that if I worked hard and believed in myself, in America I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be.”
Hers were the words of an American who believes in America and its promise, the kind of unadulterated belief that rarely has a chance to shine through these days. “During this hearing, I hope that you will see how much I love our country and the Constitution, and the rights that make us free,” she said.
And she offered a pledge. “Members of this committee: If I am confirmed, I commit to you that I will work productively to support and defend the Constitution and the grand experiment of American democracy that has endured over these past 246 years.”
In the three days of questioning that followed, as Judge Jackson maintained her calm and clarity of mind no matter how abusive or insulting the questions were, it was possible to lose sight of the reason they all were meant to be there. Or why this nomination was so special.
From the beginning, Jackson made clear that the toxic hostility and cynical, self-serving divisiveness was not what this was all about. She quoted Justice Stephen Breyer, whose seat on the bench she would take and for whom she clerked.
“What is law supposed to do, seen as a whole?” he asked on the day he was nominated to the Supreme Court. “It is supposed to allow all people—all people—to live together in a society, where they have so many different views, so many different needs, to live together in a way that is more harmonious, that is better, so that they can work productively together."
And she ended by invoking the memory and acknowledging her debt to Constance Baker Motley, the first African American woman appointed to the federal courts, with whom she shares a birthday. “Like Judge Motley,” she said, “I have dedicated my career to ensuring that the words engraved on the front of the Supreme Court building—‘Equal Justice Under Law’—are a reality and not just an ideal.”
These words—this idea and ideal—can appear so frail, so hard to accept as achievable. Some days, some years, some recent administrations, have made the promise of equal justice seem tragically impossible to believe. But when they were spoken by Judge Jackson, for a moment at least, they rang possible and true.
This moment need not be fleeting. Let’s hope that it first expands into her confirmation, then her growing influence on the increasingly ideological and conservative Supreme Court. This moment makes it possible to imagine that this experienced judge and Black woman will help usher in new perspectives from her lived experience that can change both the Court’s and the country’s future trajectory. (Yes, that will take time.)
On Wednesday, the third day of the confirmation hearings, California Sen. Alex Padilla asked her what she would say to young people “who may doubt that they can one day achieve the same great heights that you have." Jackson reflected on her first semester at Harvard University, feeling homesick and doubting whether she belonged there. She described the advice given to her by a stranger.
"I was walking through the yard in the evening and a Black woman I did not know was passing me on the sidewalk and she looked at me and I guess she knew how I was feeling and she leaned over as we crossed and said 'Persevere.'"
Persevere. Good advice for young people. Good advice for anyone struggling to make things better when the possibility can seem so insurmountable.
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She weathered the inanity extraordinarily well. The Texas buffoonery at a new low with no floor in sight. I'm from Texas.
Beautifully written. She has the temperament for SCOTUS after dealing with the yahoos in the GOP