Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination is more than symbolism, it’s about change

On Friday, Biden announced that Ketanji Brown Jackson — currently on the federal appeals court in DC — was his nominee to replace retired judge Stephen Breyer, kicking off a confirmation process that could install a black woman on the high court for the first time in US history. .

“For too long our government, our courts have not looked like America,” the president said at the White House as he introduced Jackson. “I believe it is time that we have a court that reflects all the talent and greatness of our nation with a candidate with extraordinary qualifications, and that we inspire all young people to believe that they can one day serve their country in the highest level.”

Indeed, the symbolic value of Jackson’s nomination could not be clearer.

“It is so important to have this groundbreaking nomination of an African American woman who is so well qualified for the position because her nomination will affirm the values ​​of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said Tomiko Brown-Nagin. , dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studying at Harvard University, told CNN. “Equal opportunity in the workplace, regardless of race, gender and origin, is something to be very happy about.”

Brown-Nagin also enshrined Jackson in a much larger story of firsts.

“Jackson stands on the shoulders of Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman appointed to the federal bench, and a host of personalities who, through their work, have sought to make equal protection mean something on the workplace,” Brown-Nagin added. “Jackson will be an inspiration to many little girls and African Americans who may be inspired to enter the legal profession.”

Of the. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a nonvoting member of the United States House from DC, in 2012 recommended that President Barack Obama appoint Jackson to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Obama listened to Norton and helped prepare Jackson for that moment a decade later. Norton pointed out that injecting more diversity into the justice system would bolster its legitimacy in the eyes of some Americans.

“(Jackson’s) visibility in the country as a black woman would translate into greater confidence in the justice system itself,” Norton said.

Basically, if Jackson is confirmed, its significance will go far beyond the symbols, although it won’t fundamentally change the balance of the court.
Born in Washington, DC, and raised in the Miami area, Jackson previously worked for Breyer and served as a public defender in the nation’s capital. Additionally, she served as Vice Chairman of the US Sentencing Commission for four years; during this period, the agency reduced the sentences of a number of prisoners in order to address the deep inequality of past drug policy.

“We need a voice on the Supreme Court that can weigh in on opinions from the perspective of those who have been deeply marginalized,” Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown told CNN. “And I think in order to be a public defender…she chose to do it. She didn’t have to. That (choice) tells me something about her conscience that every person deserves to have access to justice. “

Jackson’s nomination comes during a political season in which the U.S. Supreme Court and the Republican Party are restricting broad access to the ballot box through court rulings and bills that disproportionately disadvantage voters. of color. According to Brown, Jackson might be the perfect person to meet the challenges of the current democratic crisis, given his lived experiences and his progressive pragmatism.
Brown nodded to Shelby County v. Holder in 2013 and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee in 2021, two cases that together essentially defaced the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“If there’s a moment we needed (this choice), it’s now, when we see that the Supreme Court in many ways has decimated, undermined and gutted the Voting Rights Act,” a- she declared.

Brown-Nagin also pointed to the breadth of Jackson’s track record as a public defender.

“She has extensive and relevant legal experience, including in the criminal justice system. If confirmed in court, there will be for the first time since Thurgood Marshall a judge with significant experience representing defendants,” said Brown-Nagin, pointing to the late judge who was the first black to serve on the Supreme Court. “Ultimately, public defenders, which is the role Jackson played for a few years, are an integral part of our legal system, ensuring due process and the right to counsel for defendants protected by the Bill of Rights. the Constitution.”

In the coming weeks, Jackson will have to run the gauntlet in a highly charged political environment. Already, many Republicans are signaling their opposition to Biden’s nominee. And yet, no matter what flimsy case they try to build against Jackson, there’s no denying that she has the kind of background essential to be represented in the highest court in the land.
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