In an unprecedented 53-47 vote in the senate, Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first black woman to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice on Apr. 7. This momentous confirmation came just weeks after president Joe Biden announced her nomination.
Born in Washington D.C. and raised in Miami, Florida, Jackson graduated from a public high school in 1988 when segregation and racism were prevalent. Brown openly described instances of prejudice and racism that she went through during her education.
Jackson was on the speech and debate team at Miami Palmetto Senior High School. She even received a national oratory title after her captivating speeches. Unsurprisingly she also served as student body president. What others may think of as small achievements, Jackson took it and ran with it to Harvard Law School. Prior to attending Harvard, she temporarily worked as a staff reporter and researcher for Time magazine.
Clerkships allow students to work closely with judges to study and train how to become an attorney. And after graduating from Harvard in 1996, she began a clerkship for Massachusetts District Court Judge Patti B. Saris. About a year later, she began a clerkship for Judge Bruce M. Selya of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Then, in 1999 she clerked for Supreme Court Judge Stephen Breyer, whose seat she ironically took upon her historical confirmation.
A sign of her humility came in 2005 in her work as a public defender in Washington, D.C. It was during this time that, according to the Washington Post, she “won uncommon victories against the government that shortened or erased lengthy prison terms.”
Her work as a public defender was questioned, and at many points, Jackson was cut off when speaking during the confirmation hearings by Senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Lindsey Graham (R–SC). Cotton bombarded her with questions such as “Have you ever represented a terrorist at Guantánamo Bay?”
Her previous work as a public defender and judge was used as a double-edged sword for many Republicans who questioned her work and morality during the hearing.
In response to Graham’s questioning of previous sentences she imposed for specific cases, Jackson said, “What we’re trying to do is be rational in our dealing with some of the most horrible behavior.”
A major turning point in Jackson’s legal career came in 2012 when President Obama nominated her as a district court judge for the district court of Columbia.
In 2021 Jackson went on to serve in the U.S. Court of Appeals after being nominated by President Biden.
That brings us to April 2022. In its 233-year history, prior to Judge Jackson, there had only been two African Americans who served in the U.S. Supreme Court. Jackson became the first black female nominated and first black female to obtain that position in the highest court in our country.
To young Americans who watched the confirmation hearing, Jackson had this to say:
“I hope to inspire people to try to follow this path because I love this country. Because I love the law. Because I think that it’s important that we all invest in our future. The young people are the future, and I want them to know that they can do and be anything. I would tell them to persevere.”