The U.S. Senate vote on April 7, 2022 marked the historic confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as an associate justice of the US Supreme Court. The significance of this breakthrough is undeniable, but it is also long overdue. Even though Black women have played a pivotal role in legal scholarship and jurisprudence, they have made up only 2 percent of all candidates ever nominated to any seat on the federal bench. We join Black women and girls around the country and all those who hope for a more fair and just America in recognition of Justice Jackson’s achievement.
Even as we celebrate this historic moment, however, we cannot ignore the ugly process preceding Thursday’s Senate vote. Justice Jackson’s extraordinary judicial experience should have spoken for itself. Not only was she among the most qualified nominees in recent history to ascend to the Court, her unwavering commitment to defendants’ rights within the criminal justice system and her work to reduce the worst consequences of US sentencing laws are also indispensable assets to a court that’s long tilted strongly toward the interests of prosecutors and police.
Yet Judge Jackson’s Senate confirmation hearings became a forum for baldly racist and sexist attacks from Republican lawmakers. She was put through 13 hours of grueling, off-topic, and irresponsible questioning. In the face of this ideologically driven onslaught, she responded to each baseless allegation with a calm and gracious temperament. Justice Jackson’s conduct before the Judiciary Committee was the exact opposite of the demeanor that Justice Brett Kavanaugh displayed during his confirmation hearings in 2017, as he assumed the mantle of an aggrieved political victim in the face of credible charges of his past sexual misconduct.
This obscene double standard is sadly familiar to Black women across generations. In virtually every sphere of American life, they have had to surmount unyielding obstacles that similarly situated white men never have to confront—while also contending with blatant misogynoir campaigns to discredit them.
Justice Jackson’s confirmation process also reaffirmed the unmistakable momentum of rightwing politics over the past two years. These hearings were a stark reminder that Republican strategists intend to equate mere racial identity with Critical Race Theory and depict both as illegitimate forces in public life. Republican political operatives greeted Jackson’s nomination with an attack ad that featured her initials crossed out and replaced with CRT.
As we have repeatedly warned, the conservative attacks on Critical Race Theory do not end with CRT. The right-wing culture war against CRT is now broadening to dismantle racial justice initiatives, access to abortion, and LGBTQIA+ rights. This is the anything-but-subtle subtext of the line of questioning from Justice Jackson’s Senate inquisitors, which alternated between an obsessive preoccupation with “non-enumerated rights” and demands that Justice Jackson provide formal definitions of what a woman is and when life begins. This rhetorical violence is just a prelude of far uglier attacks to come from the American right. We are witnessing an interrelated array of anti-CRT, anti-trans, anti-gay, anti-ballot-access, anti-protest, and anti-abortion legislation across the nation.
We recognize what Justice Jackson’s confirmation means for the broader progress of Black women, and the struggle for justice writ large. We must pay close attention to the horror show unfolding in our democracy even as we celebrate this historic moment. Reform and retrenchment, as American history teaches, go hand in hand. With leaders of the American right now emboldened and angered by their failure to stop Justice Jackson’s ascension to the high court, we can expect more vicious attacks, more lies, and more outrageous behavior from the politicians hoping to ride this wave of anger into power. Now is not the time to let our guard down. We have to be ready to fight harder than we have fought before.
We at the African American Policy Forum recognize this historic moment and will look to the legacies of the first-ever Black woman Supreme Court justice that are sure to inspire future generations. We join the millions of Americans who celebrate Justice Jackson’s elevation to the Supreme Court, and condemn once again the public mistreatment of a Black woman for simply being a Black woman.
[Photo: Kevin Lamarque-Pool/Getty Images]