By Einthiri Mudili
On February 25, 2022, President Joe Biden announced his nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court to replace the seat of retiring Justice Stephen Breyer. Jackson, 51, is a graduate of Harvard Law School, and currently sits on DC’s federal appellate court. She has been considered the front-runner for the vacancy since Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement announcement. During his presidential campaign, President Biden vowed to select an African American woman to serve on the high court saying, "The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity. And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court. It's long overdue, in my view. I made that commitment during the campaign for president, and I will keep that commitment.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, will next host hearings to examine Jackson’s record. The confirmation process timeline is uncertain. But, some sources say that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is looking to Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation timeline–less than a month–as a target due to the possibility that Democrats could lose control of the Senate in the November midterm elections.
However, Republicans have no plan to let the confirmation process occur swiftly. For Black female judges such as Jackson, the process has meant a blazing trail of scrutiny and assumptions. Republicans stated that they disagreed with the President's decision to name a Black woman to the court rather than judging a nominee squarely on their credentials. Before Biden even picked a nominee, GOP Senators were making conclusions that she would be far-left and calling for a slow confirmation process. Republicans have criticized some of Jackson’s earlier rulings, including a 2019 ruling in which Jackson dismissed an effort by the Trump administration to speed deportations and a ruling calling Trump’s former White House counsel, Don McGahn, to testify during a congressional impeachment inquiry into Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Ultimately, Republicans have little leverage to stop Biden’s nominee, but they may be able to slow the process down.
Jackson’s appointment does not change the ideological makeup of the 6-3 conservative majority court: it is expected that the court will continue ruling towards the right with high-profile cases in the upcoming months on abortion, gun control, and religious liberty. However, her appointment is historic, symbolizing the confirmation of the first black woman to sit on the highest court in the nation– a court that was made up entirely of white men for almost two centuries. “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,” Biden said as he formally introduced Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as his Supreme Court nominee.
Jackson’s confirmation hearings begin on Monday, March 21 and Democrats in Congress are hoping for a smooth bipartisan confirmation. Jackson has met privately with nearly half of the Senate ahead on the hearings. However, Republican members of Congress have been strongly voicing their attacks on Jackson’s experience as a judge. In a floor speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said “Her supporters look at her résumé and deduce a special empathy for criminals, I guess that means that government prosecutors and innocent crime victims start each trial at a disadvantage.”