Black women watch with hope as Ketanji Brown Jackson begins her confirmation hearings

‘I think that’s fantastic from the natural hairstyle all the way down,’ one Black woman lawyer says

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Monday 21 March 2022 15:25 GMT
Supporters of the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson rally outside of the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 21, 2022
Supporters of the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson rally outside of the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 21, 2022 (AP)

When the Senate Judiciary Committee begins its hearings to determine whether it will confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Black women around the country will be watching as she seeks to become the first Black female Supreme Court Justice.

“The broader America across the board is going to be introduced to this woman,” Glynda Carr,  president and chief executive of Higher Heights PAC, which is dedicated to electing Black women, said. Ms Carr is also part of the Black Women’s Leadership Collective. “People are going to be tuned in.”

Ms Carr noted how Ms Jackson, a double graduate of Harvard who serves on the US Court of Appeals Circuit for the District of Columbia, is someone with sterling credentials.

“They are going to be introduced to this woman. The strategy was to introduce the diversity and her background to set a baseline of ‘here’s a woman who checks literally all the boxes,’” Ms Carr told The Independent.

Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist and also a member of the BWLC, said that plenty of people are excited not just for her hearing but also her confirmation.

“Women, Black women are excited,” she told The Independent in an interview. “And the way I also think about this is it’ll be the image of her sitting there on Monday, but in my mind, I think ahead to the image of her taking her place on the Supreme Court that first Monday in October.”

President Joe Biden had pledged on the campaign trail in 2020 before the South Carolina Primary that he would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. That pledge helped convince House Majority Whip James Clyburn to support Mr Biden’s candidacy before the South Carolina primary, which ultimately catapulted him to the Democratic nomination.

(Getty Images)

Mr Biden thanked Black voters in his victory speech in November of 2020, noting his longstanding ties to them and his support for the community.

“And especially for those moments when this campaign was at its lowest — the African American community stood up again for me. They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.”

Ms Finney said Ms Jackson’s nomination is a potent reminder of the fact that Mr Biden’s election had consequences.

“I think it’s important for Americans to realise, particularly, I mean, obviously Americans who voted for President Biden and Kamala Harris, we made this happen,” she said. Ms Finney said Ms Jackson’s nomination was as much a comparable political win to Democrats as Donald Trump’s nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, an archconservative justice with strong antiabortion credentials, was for conservative Republicans.

“Joe Biden made a promise, we elected him, and he’s keeping that promise,” she said.

Jamie Wright, an employment attorney in Los Angeles, said that she appreciated that Ms Jackson, a former public defender, had an unorthodox history compared to other nominees to the Supreme Court.

“She’s actually, her career path is atypical for the average person who goes to the Supreme Court,” she said. Ms Wright also said she appreciated how Ms Jackson embraces her Blackness.

Ms Jackson’s parents named her when her aunt, then a Peace Corps volunteer, sent them a list of African girl names and chose “Ketanji Onyika,” which means “lovely one,” which she mentioned in a 2017 speech at the University of Georgia School of Law. She also similarly wears her hair in dreadlocks, which Ms Wright praised.

“I think that is very much herself in terms of presentation. I think that’s fantastic from the natural hairstyle all the way down,” she said. But Ms Wright said she also hopes that Ms Jackson can discuss the challenges Black women face in the legal profession.

“That’s where a voice like hers can be really awesome because I don’t think we’ll get that from our vice president,” she said in reference to Vice President Kamala Harris, who is the first Black woman vice president and a lawyer. “That’s not her wheelhouse. We need somebody to be more transparent.”

But Ms Jackson’s hearing also comes as Mr Biden’s support among Black voters has taken a significant nose dive. Democrats failed to pass a reauthorisation of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court significantly gutted in 2013, and Congress has failed to pass police reform legislation despite the killing of George Floyd.

A Quinnipiac University Poll from January found that Mr Biden’s support is only 57 per cent. That was down 21 points from April of 2021. Ms Wright said that she wants to see more action from the Biden administration.

“But there is so much more that can be done to advance the cause of the black community to make it economically,” she said, noting how she read an article about housing discrimination earlier. “Pass some legislation that really supports those of us who want to own homes.”

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