Two hundred and thirty-two years, 116 justices, 108 White men, six women, two Black men, and one Latinx woman later, the United States Supreme Court finally has an African American woman serving as Associate Justice.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson earned confirmation with a 53-47 vote, breaking the glass ceiling after America’s first Black woman Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the process to confirm her.
“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States,” Jackson proclaimed a day after her confirmation during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on April 8.
“But we’ve made it. We’ve made it. All of us. All of us,” she declared, adding that “Our children are telling me that they see now more than ever that here in America, anything is possible.”
Jackson remarked that she had been flooded with thousands of meaningful notes from children and others. She said the letters for young ones touched her deeply.
“Because more than anything, they speak directly to the hope and promise of America,” she asserted. “[Children] also tell me that I am a role model, which I take both as an opportunity and as a huge responsibility.
“I am feeling up to the task, primarily because I know that I am not alone. I am standing on the shoulders of my own role models. Generations of Americans who never had anything close to this kind of opportunity, but who got up every day and went to work believing in the promise of America.”
President Joe Biden proudly acknowledged his history-making nomination and the nominee turned confirmed Justice. “I mean this from the bottom my heart. This is going to let so much sunshine on so many young women, so many young Black women,” Biden offered. “We’re going to look back and see this as a moment of real change in American history.”
Harris, who appeared proud and demonstrably nervous as she presided over the Senate vote, said Jackson’s confirmation served a higher purpose. “This will answer fundamental questions about who we are and what kind of country we live in,” Harris stated.
“You will inspire generations of leaders. They will watch your confirmation hearings and read your decisions in the years to come. Today is indeed a wonderful day,” Harris continued.
The arduous and volatile confirmation hearings served to underscore why more than 3,800 individuals have served on federal benches in the United States, but only 70 have been Black women. Following four days of public testimony and a racially charged grilling of Jackson by Republicans that began on March 21, Senate Judiciary members deadlocked 11-11 on April 4 to move the nomination out of committee.
However, Jackson’s nomination moved forward based on Senate rules and a Democrat majority in the upper chamber. On April 7, members again engaged in a debate over confirmation, but Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer cut arguments off before the final vote.
Ironically, Republicans changed the rules for Supreme Court nominees in 2017 to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch, a pick of former President Donald Trump. That move allowed for a similar majority to vote to limit debate.
While all 50 Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted in favor of Jackson, Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were the only Republicans to cast ballots of approval. They did not, however, appear at the White House confirmation ceremony.
“My grandparents on both sides, who had only a grade school education but instilled in my parents the importance of learning. To my parents who went to racially segregated schools growing up and were the first in their families to have the chance to go to college,” Jackson said.
She paid homage to Justice Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other heroes.
“I am also ever buoyed by the leadership of generations past who helped to light the way. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Justice Thurgood Marshall, and my personal heroine, Judge Constance Baker Motley,” Jackson said.
“They and so many others did the heavy lifting that made this day possible. I think of them as the true pathbreakers.”
She noted that everyone has had someone else come before them: “No one does this on their own. The path was cleared for me so that I might rise to this occasion,” Jackson said. “In the poetic words of Dr. Maya Angelou, ‘I do so now while bringing the gifts my ancestors gave. I am the dream and the hope of the slave.’”
Stacy M. Brown is the NNPA Newswire Senior National correspondent