After being confirmed last Friday, April 8, to be the first African American woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wasted no time putting that historic moment in context: “We’ve made it, all of us. All of us!” she repeated. To her the victory was collective, one that all Americans can celebrate, especially those who have waited so long for such an achievement. “It has taken 232 year and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.”
For those Americans who had been paying close attention to the confirmation process, as vicious as it often was, it was a foregone conclusion that a seat on the bench of the highest court was reserved for her. That outcome was assured even as the senators voted along party lines since the deciding vote would have been cast by Vice President Harris. Three Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah, crossed the aisle, joining the Democrats, giving Justice Jackson a 53 to 47 tally.
Vice President Harris didn’t get a chance to break a tie but, as president of the Senate, it was her responsibility to announce the outcome, which she did with a smile on her face and glee in her voice. “On this vote,” she began, “the yeas are 53 and the nays are 47, and the nomination is confirmed.” The Senate chamber reverberated with applause. A tandem of Black women, on separate occasions, had shattered the glass ceiling of denial.
Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock was among the celebrants, and rightfully so since he won a runoff election, giving the Democrats control of the Senate. “Yes, I’m a senator,” he told a reporter a day before Justice Jackson was confirmed. “I’m a pastor. But beyond all of that, I’m the father of a young Black girl.
“For my 5-year-old daughter and for so many young women in our country…seeing Judge Jackson ascend to the Supreme Court reflects the promise of progress on which our democracy rests,” he added.
Justice Jackson knew full well the circumstances of her ascendance, citing a number of notables and not so well known individuals during her remarks after the confirmation. After extending her gratitude to her family, she recounted her experience as a clerk for the man she will replace later this summer. “My clerkship with Justice Breyer, in particular, was an extraordinary gift and one for which I’ve only become more grateful with each passing year. Justice Breyer’s commitment to an independent, impartial judiciary is unflagging. And, for him, the rule of law is not merely a duty, it is his passion. I am daunted by the prospect of having to follow in his footsteps. And I
would count myself lucky, indeed, to be able to do so with even the smallest amount of his wisdom, grace, and joy.”
There were then words about her role and responsibility on the court. “They also tell me that I’m 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, showing others through their determination and, yes, their perseverance that good—good things can be done in this great country, from 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.
“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,” with whom she shares a birthdate.
She closed with the poetic words of Dr. Maya Angelou, reciting that while “bringing the gifts…my ancestors gave. I am the dream and the hope the slave. So as I take on this new role, I strongly believe that this is a moment in which all Americans can take pride. We have come a long way toward perfecting our union. In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.”
The sense of good cheer in her voice was often accompanied by a sense of reckoning, anticipating the struggle ahead, a harbinger of which she had heard during the confirmation. She promised to do her part “to carry our shared project of democracy and equal justice under law forward, into the future.”