The Senate confirms Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. WHITEHOUSE.GOV/ COURTESY
By Maria Thomas, Senior Writer
On Thursday, April 7, supreme court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed by a senate vote of 53-47, led by Democrats. Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve as a supreme court justice.
Furthermore, Jackson will be the first federal public defender on the court, and the first justice since Thurgood Marshall who has represented criminal defendants.
The senate, which is Republican led, is composed of 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats and 2 independents. In the vote to swear in Jackson, Democrats were joined by Republican Senators Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Jackson is expected to be sworn in after the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer, which will happen in the summer. For now, Jackson will continue serving on the US Court of Appeals until she starts her position in the High Court. She has been recusing from any and all cases to avoid a conflict of interest, given her upcoming position.
Jackson’s parents both have significant experience working in public schools, as both teachers and principals. Ellory and Johnny Brown were both raised in Florida during strict Jim Crow laws. Despite their challenges in receiving a fair and equitable education, the couple respectively attended historically Black colleges, and they instilled values of civil service in their children.
Jackson’s mother, Ellory Brown, has been a science teacher and principal for many years. Her father, Johnny Brown, eventually went to law school and pursued a career in the legal field.
In a widely circulated quote from the hearing, Jackson said, “My very earliest memories are of watching my father study — he had his stack of law books on the kitchen table while I sat across from him with my stack of coloring books.”
Jackson herself attended Harvard for both undergraduate studies and law school. She has spent the majority of her career working as a public defender, and in 2010 Jackson was chosen to serve as the vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
In the senate hearings two weeks prior to the vote, a variety of emphatically discussed “concerns” were raised by Republican members who were not in support of the confirmation.
Naturally, several members of the Senate wanted to discern whether or not Jackson had a liberal interpretation of the Constitution, asking her if she believes the Constitution’s meaning shifts based on the time and cultural scenario. Jackson said, no: the Constitution’s meaning does not just change based on year or policy.
Yet, one topic that seemed to reappear more than most was how Jackson has handled cases related to child pornography.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who ultimately voted in favor of the nominee, led the attack on Jackson, raising several imaginative points: firstly, he mentioned a book that had been taught at Jackson’s daughter’s school in Washington, where she sits on the board, called “Antiracist Baby”. Cruz brought a copy of the book to show his fellow senators, and then asked Jackson if she thought babies were, in fact, racist.
Then, Cruz brought up several of Brown’s cases as a public defender related to child pornography, and argued that Jackson let offenders off the hook too easily. Senator Cruz even brought a chart displaying Jackson’s sentencings in an attempt to argue she had sided with criminals over victims, yet Jackson made it clear this was not the case, and that her sentencing was standard (and individualized to each case):
“In every case I did my duty to hold the defendants accountable in light of the evidence and the information that was presented to me.”
She went on to explain that sentencing is not a “numbers game,” and that so many factors must be considered in each individual case, but that her priority is placing victims at the center of the conversation.
This hearing has been indicative of the strong partisan divide affecting our current governmental systems. In previous years, it was common that a president could nominate their candidate of choice and get them on the bench almost unanimously, as long as they were well-qualified for the position. In the case of Justice Stephen Breyer, when President Bill Clinton nominated him in 1994, he was sworn in by a 87-9 vote.
Although this was not as seamless a process, those that voted in favor of Jackson were overcome with excitement when the decision was finally reached. After Vice President Kamala Harris announced the results of the tally, many senators rose to their feet, and the room filled with applause.
In response to the nomination, President Biden said, “For too long, our government, our courts, haven’t looked like America. I believe it’s time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications, and that we inspire all young people to believe that they can one day serve their country at the highest level.”