Behind the Supreme Court nomination: Ketanji Brown Jackson

Kyle Young, Staff Writer and Designer

On August 8, 2009, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts. She was the first Latina and the third woman to hold the title. As of February, Sotomayor remains the only woman of color to ever be appointed to the Supreme Court. However, when Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer formally announced his resignation on January 27th, 2022, marking the end of his 27-year tenure, it opened possibilities for change.
On March 14, 2020, President Joe Biden said, “if I am elected president and have an opportunity to appoint someone to the [Supreme] Court, I will appoint the first Black woman to the [Supreme] Court.” Throughout his campaign and time in office, Mr. Biden has frequently reiterated his promise, and after much speculation, on February 25th, he officially nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.
Mr. Biden’s nomination could help diversify perspectives within the United States’ highest court. Win Hwangbo, a former Law Clerk for the United States 5th Court of Appeals said, “the reality is, there are judges that are really Republican, there are judges that are really Democratic, [and] there are some that are kind of in the middle. But they do very much take [their worldview] with them.”
In early February, Mr. Biden announced the three frontrunners for this nomination: Ketanji Brown Jackson, a recent appointee to the United States Court of Appeals, Leondra Kruger, an Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court, and J. Michelle Childs, a federal judge on the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina. While all nominees are of African descent, Mr. Biden has said he is interested in diversity beyond racial identity. Mr. Biden made sure his three potential nominees came from a variety of professional and educational backgrounds. In addition to working as a clerk under now predecessor Justice Breyer from 1999 to 2000, Jackson will be the first person appointed to the Supreme Court to have worked as a public defender.
“My general overall opinion is just that it’s a step in the right direction,” said Guy Leavitt, Urban school history teacher. “To have somebody on the court who will really take into consideration the perspective of the poor people who need public defenders is huge. Often the court does the bidding of big business alongside corporate interests and for that reason, I feel like that’s great.”
However, there are concerns from both Democrats and Republicans alike over issues of tokenism and a racially-based nomination process. Conservative politicians have argued that nominating a justice based on the sole factors of gender and race creates an unfair nomination process. Others argue prioritizing race is necessary to diversify the Supreme Court. The merits of the nomination process and concerns of tokenism will likely be highly disputed in the next few months under the split senate.
Urban’s Dean of Equity and Inclusion Aku Ammah-Tagoe spoke of her hope for the implications of a Black woman on the Supreme Court. “I feel confident that there will be a Black woman on the Supreme Court and that in itself is a big deal” Ammah-Tagoe said. “I hope to quickly get to the point where it’s not a big deal. It needs to not be a big deal.”
Ammah-Tagoe also noted, “nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court increases representation but it isn’t necessarily the same thing as taking the rights and needs of Black women seriously.”
Regarding claims of tokenism, Mr. Biden further clarified his commitment to recognize quality candidates, with the intent to bring new perspectives— beyond race—to the Supreme Court of the United States. “I’ve made no decision except one: the person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience and integrity,” Mr. Biden said. “And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court.”

Supreme Court Building
Illustration credit: Kyle Young.