What Does Judge Jackson’s Supreme Court Confirmation Mean to You?

On April 7, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the Supreme Court in a 53-to-47 vote, with three Republicans joining all 50 members of the Democratic caucus in backing her.

Judge Jackson’s confirmation is historic: When she replaces Justice Stephen G. Breyer at the end of the current term this summer, she will be the first Black woman, as well as the first public defender, to serve as a Supreme Court justice.

What do you think Judge Jackson’s confirmation means for the country? What does it mean to you?

In “A Transformative Justice Whose Impact May Be Limited,” Adam Liptak, The Times’s Supreme Court reporter, considered this question in a political context:

WASHINGTON — Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman confirmed to the Supreme Court, will in one sense transform it. Once she replaces Justice Stephen G. Breyer, one of the 108 white men who preceded her, the court will look a lot more like the nation it serves.

There will, for the first time, be four women on the court. Also for the first time, there will be two Black justices. And a Latina.

But that new tableau on the court’s grand mahogany bench will mask a simple truth: The new justice will do nothing to alter the basic dynamic on a court dominated by six Republican appointees.

However collegial she may be, whatever her reputation as a “consensus builder” and whether her voting record will be slightly to the right or the left of Justice Breyer’s, the court’s lopsided conservative majority will remain in charge. Judge Jackson will most likely find herself, as Justice Breyer has, in dissent in the court’s major cases on highly charged social questions.

Indeed, in an institution that prizes seniority, the court’s three-member liberal wing is apt to lose power.

The viciousness of the fight over Judge Jackson’s confirmation was, then, wholly at odds with what was at stake in the actual work of the court, at least in the short term.

And in “’We Belong in These Spaces’: Jackson’s Successors Reflect on Her Nomination,” Linda Qiu asked women of the Harvard Black Law Students Association, of which Judge Jackson is an alumna, how her nomination affected them on a personal level. Here is how three students responded:

Virginia Thomas:

Virginia Thomas helped pass guidelines in New York banning hair discrimination three years earlier, so seeing Judge Jackson “with sisterlocks, standing up there in her glory and her professionalism,” was particularly satisfying.

“It’s an opportunity for people to really visualize and see Black women doing what they do, which is being unapologetically successful, unapologetically confident in who they are,” Ms. Thomas, 31, said.

Brianna Banks:

“By the numbers, we have a lot of Supreme Court justices from Harvard Law School,” she said. “And I am one of the few students that I knew that could never be me, no matter what, because there had never been one that looked like me before. So it brought up this emotion because people tell you, you come from Harvard Law School, you can do whatever you want, there’s no job that isn’t open to you. But for Black women, that’s not always true, because there are a lot of spaces or jobs that we still have not occupied.”

“Now,” she added, “the sky is the limit.”

Zarina Mustafa:

As a first-generation college student who has had family members put behind bars, Zarinah Mustafa, 27, said she was particularly excited about Judge Jackson’s background as a public defender.

“I just feel like that perspective is so underrepresented and it doesn’t make sense why, in a country where we say that everyone deserves a vigorous defense,” she said.

“I care about defending the little folk, little people and I definitely see myself in her,” Ms. Mustafa added.

Students, read both articles, then tell us:

  • Are you glad to see Judge Jackson confirmed to the Supreme Court? Why or why not?

  • What do you think it will mean for the country to have Judge Jackson, a Black woman and a former public defender, serve on the court? To what extent do you think she will shape the bench, now and in the future? President Biden said Judge Jackson’s confirmation had changed the course of American history and life. Do you agree? Why or why not?

  • What does Judge Jackson’s confirmation to the highest court in the land mean to you, personally? Does this moment make you see yourself, and what is possible for you and others, in a new light? How so?

  • How important is it for the United States to have a Supreme Court that is diverse, in terms of identity, life experience and professional background? Do you think, as Judge Jackson’s supporters have contended, that her confirmation is a needed step in that direction?

  • In recent years Supreme Court confirmation hearings have become bitterly polarized and combative. A recent Times article reported on how Black women saw the treatment of Judge Jackson:

In the hearing’s stinging exchanges, some Black women said they saw the same hardly veiled discrimination that they have experienced at times in their personal and professional lives. They also recognized Judge Jackson’s response: the same steely endurance that they have tried to display through gritted teeth, even when under far less intense public scrutiny.

Did you watch any of Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing? What did you think of the process? How did it affect you, if at all?

  • Which upcoming Supreme Court cases that Mr. Liptak wrote about are most important to you? How do you hope the court rules on them? How do you think Judge Jackson’s presence might affect these rulings, if at all?

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