When Justice Katanji Brown Jackson entered the Senate chamber this week to face questions about her desire to join the Supreme Court, she did so as the first black woman in the nation’s history to be nominated. at this post.
For many black law students and professionals, including a group of 150 people who traveled from across the country to attend the historic hearing, Jackson’s rise to likely associate justice sends a profound message of hope for what they too could one day achieve.
“I knew I had to be there. That’s the story. It’s a moment. Plus, she’s a former Harvard law student, so I feel a kind of special connection,” said Thomiah Dudley, third-year law student at Jackson’s alma mater. , Harvard Law School.
Dudley was one of 100 law students selected from around the country to attend a series of events and attend parties for Jackson’s nomination, hosted by the progressive organization Demand Justice. The group also included 50 public defenders — a nod to Jackson’s own background in this area.
“I see a lot of myself in her. I see a lot of my friends in her, and I wanted to be there to support her,” Dudley said, calling Jackson “too qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.”
The cohort of legal professionals cheered Jackson as she faced questions from Republicans about her past cases, particularly those relating to child sex abuse, and what school of thought she would bring to determine the constitutionality of high-profile cases.
Republicans had vowed to oppose President Joe Biden’s nominees on the court, and when news of Judge Stephen Breyer’s impending retirement broke, the GOP quickly mobilized to attack potential nominees who could replace the judiciary. longtime Liberal on the bench.
When Jackson became Biden’s pick, Republicans sought to portray the judge, who also at one time served as a public defender, as soft on crime.
In particular, some sentencing decisions in child pornography cases have drawn fire from the GOP. But Jackson’s measured responses throughout the three days of questioning bolstered support from many onlookers, who reveled in what it would mean to have a black woman sit on the bench for the first time in 233 years of history of the court.
“The thing is, I’m the father of three black girls, right? And being able to tell them that finally, someone who’s black – a woman anyway – is finally on the precipice of a mountain that has never been escalated before by any other black woman, is huge,” said Edrius Stagg, a third-year law student at Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge.
“I can look them in the face and be honest when I say anything is possible.”
Jackson’s appearance in the Senate also appeared to buy her the votes she would need for confirmation.
Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia – whose split with Democrats over a number of politically tense votes had worried some about whether he would support Biden’s nominee – announced on Friday that he would vote in favor of confirmation. of Jackson, while ensuring his way to join The Bench.
A question of optics
For some, the optics of seeing Jackson — a black woman — defending his credentials to a group of largely white, predominantly male detractors was a familiar sight. According to the students, this has happened in workplaces around the world and across the socio-economic spectrum.
During a hearing that included meaty sonic opportunities for Republicans to question Jackson’s view of the meaning of life and whether she supported critical race theory, there were also brief moments lightness and raw emotion, especially from New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.
“You faced some insults here that shocked me,” Booker told Jackson directly.
“You didn’t come here because of a left-wing agenda,” Booker said. “You didn’t get here because of some black money groups. You got here like every black woman in America who’s been anywhere has, being like Ginger Rogers said, ‘I got does everything Fred Astaire did but in reverse, in heels. Booker was referring to the famous dancing duo.
Booker called the attacks on Jackson’s record “dangerous” and “dishonest”, noting the complexity of the cases which had been reduced to their most basic points in order to damage Jackson’s image.
“I see my ancestors and yours,” Booker said, bringing tears to some onlookers, including Jackson herself.
“I’m not going to let my joy be stolen,” he continued. “Because I know, you and I appreciate something that we get that a lot of my colleagues don’t appreciate.”
And while Jackson’s opponents peppered her with politically polarizing questions, her supporters grew even more convinced that Jackson was qualified for the job.
“To see her keep her composure and answer questions to the best of her ability was really great to watch,” said Jasmine McMillion, a third-year law student at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University College of Law.
“Coming into the legal profession, I know I would have to deal with microaggressions, but she taught me how to deal with it,” McMillion said.
“I don’t always have to fight it with the same energy or viciousness,” she continued. “I could just keep my cool and be calm…like she did.”