Ketanji Brown Jackson Becomes the First African American Woman Supreme Court Justice

Danielle Silverman, Staff Writer

On Thursday, April 7, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the Supreme Court, set to take Justice Stephen Bryer’s place when he retires at the end of this session. After attending Harvard Law School, Jackson has spent the majority of her professional career serving as a court judge, both in the circuit courts and the D.C. Court of Appeals. 

Not all members of the Senate were in good spirits when the vote was confirmed. In fact, while the majority of Senators gave Jackson a round of applause, many Republican Senators, led by minority leader Mitch McConnell, turned their backs and walked out of the room. Not only did this act radiate unprofessionalism, but it also showcased the reality of the tensions between the two political parties. 

After days of intense questioning, Jackson was confirmed to be a Supreme Court Justice on a 53-47 vote. Three Republicans crossed party lines and voted to confirm Jackson, a significant move in the age of strong party polarization. Tensions within the Republican Party itself were revealed at the moment of applause, as images of Senator Mitt Romney, a moderate Republican who voted to confirm Jackson, stood and applauded while his Republican colleague Senator Ted Cruz packed up his things to exit the chamber. 

Republicans who were against Jackson’s confirmation attempted to paint her as a “leftist extremist,” who would help to tip the political lean of the Supreme Court more towards the left. One of the main reasons Republicans have cited as to why they do not want Jackson to be on the Supreme Court is her stance on court-packing, which they claim is an idea she is not opposed to. However, when Jackson responded to a question regarding the size of the Supreme Court, she responded that it was “a policy question for Congress” and that she wishes to “[stay] in [her] lane” as a judge, according to NBC News.

Republicans took this answer as a sign that she is not against the idea of court-packing, even though she did not give a direct answer as to what side of the argument she stood on. Democrats argue that Republicans were being quite hypocritical regarding their questioning of Jackson on topics of court-packing and beyond. During the 2020 hearings of now Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Republicans did not ask as many intense or irrelevant questions towards the conservative judge. While Cruz asked Jackson questions about children’s books dealing with critical race theory, according to CNN, senators during Barrett’s hearing asked her to recite the First Amendment, which she did incorrectly. In short, Jackson was forced to face questioning that legal experts have claimed to be “unfair and misleading,” according to Business Insider, which Barrett was not forced to endure in 2020, further highlighting the realities of political polarization within the United States government.

According to NBC News, when Barrett was asked questions about court-packing during her hearings, she answered the question in a very similar way to Jackson, stating that the question of court-packing was “a question left open to Congress.” Though their answers were similar, the Republican responses to the answers of Barrett and Jackson could not be more different. 

Regardless of how Republicans felt about Jackson and her ideology, their “walk-out” was quite the unprofessional political spectacle. Julia Borger, CNN’s chief political correspondent, stated that regardless of Republican beliefs about Jackson, she needed to get the respect due “any other Supreme Court nominee,” which she was not given by several Republicans in and outside of the chamber, according to Business Insider. Borger further stated that she did not appreciate Republican behavior during and before the confirmation, pointing to Senator Rand Paul who was late for the vote, and Senator Lindsey Graham who had not been admitted to the Senate chamber because he was not in proper attire to walk onto the Senate floor, causing him to cast his vote from the doorway of the Republican cloakroom.

Nevertheless, Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation made history in America as the first confirmation of an African American woman on the Supreme Court of the United States. During a time in America where there exists heightened and intense political polarization, the fact that three Republicans crossed party lines to confirm Jackson is a huge accomplishment in itself. In short, no matter how the situation is viewed, the United States government has made progress towards a more welcoming and inclusive future.