Op/ed: WAS KETANJI BROWN JACKSON'S CONFIRMATION HEARING  FAIR?

Amanda Edge '22 and Catherine Onorato '22

Being progressive and watching the changes in the Supreme Court over the past couple of years has been rather unsettling. From the hasty nomination and confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, which swayed the court to a more conservative-leaning majority, to the passage of overly restrictive abortion laws in red states, made with the intention of bringing court cases concerning abortion before the Supreme Court with the aim of overturning Roe vs. Wade and restricting women’s rights to abortions nationwide. So when President Biden announced that he planned to fill Justice Breyer’s vacancy with Ketanji Brown Jackson, it renewed in us a sense of pride and faith in our justice system that has been lacking for some time now. 

Justice Jackson is a true embodiment of someone who genuinely deserves to sit on the Supreme Court. She attended Harvard for both her undergraduate degree and for law school, graduating cum laude both times. Since then, Jackson has served as a public defender, Supreme Court Clerk for Justice Breyer, Vice-Chair of the US Sentencing Commission, Judge on the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and Judge on the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

Jackson will be the first justice to have previously served as a public defender, an essential role in our legal system that provides Americans with the constitutional right to counsel gives one an unparalleled experience in the courtroom, and allows them to see our justice system for what it is, flawed. 

Throughout our nation’s history, we have prided ourselves on these rights we’ve deemed to be fundamental: the right to a trial by jury of one’s peers, the right to representation, and the right to a fair and speedy trial. But throughout history, these rights have been accessible to only some and elusive to many. Black people, historically, have been convicted of crimes by juries of entirely white people who had predetermined their guilt before even hearing the facts of the case. The prospect of black people as jurors, let alone as judges, has been a pipe dream. While it’s incredibly unfortunate that it’s taken over two centuries to get here, it’s remarkable to think about all that’s been overcome to lead us to the point where a black woman is a Justice on the highest court in the U.S. 

(Amanda) Growing up, my parents always stressed that because I’m both black and female, I’d have to be twice as good and work twice as hard as my white counterparts to achieve the same goal. Watching the nomination process of Ketanji Brown Jackson showed me precisely why. Though Jackson is more than qualified for this position, during her confirmation hearing I watched as Senator Graham questioned whether or not Jackson was merely an “affirmative action appointee” and stated that “If you’re a person of color, a woman, supported by liberals, it’s pretty easy sailing.” She was asked about her stance on political issues, which were not at all relevant to what her work would be on the Supreme Court. But these questions were simply the Republican senator’s attempt to paint Jackson as a political figurehead rather than the dynamic legal mind that she is. It was incredibly inspiring, however, to observe her composure during the theatrics. 

(Catherine) When Biden announced that he was nominating a black woman to the court, I had mixed emotions. Obviously, I was elated to know that the nominee would be a black woman and I was grateful that her life experience would be reflected in the court. But the manner in which President Biden announced his nominee gave conservatives an opportunity to argue that this nominee would be chosen only on account of race and gender, rather than qualifications. Obviously, Jackson is more than qualified for the position, in fact, she has more experience than four of the current justices on the Supreme Court. This statement that Biden made gave conservatives in Congress the opportunity to relegate her nomination to her race and gender alone. 

Aside from what opposing parties may say about Judge Jackson, her qualifications and experience speak for themselves and she clearly deserves her place on the Supreme Court. The fact that it’s taken so long for a black woman to sit on the court speaks to the uneven playing field between white people and people of color, a playing field that can only be leveled with a change in perspective and the undoing of bias that was sewn into this country from its founding. Jackson’s confirmation marks a monumental change, but the troubles and backlash she endured speaks to change that still must take place.