Ketanji Brown Jackson

Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed as Supreme Court justice: 4 essential reads

Matt Williams from The Conversation shares insights from legal scholars on the history and meaning behind Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation.

The phrase “in a historic vote” gets thrown around a lot in journalism – and it isn’t always warranted. But shortly after 2 p.m. EDT on April 7, 2022, a Senate roll call confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson as the next U.S. Supreme Court justice – the first Black woman to sit on the bench.

The elevation of Jackson to the Supreme Court will not change the ideological setup of the bench – which would continue to be split 6-3 in favor of conservative justices.

Nonetheless, it is an important landmark in the history of the court – of the 115 justices on the Supreme Court since it was established in 1789, 108 have been white men.

Race featured in Jackson’s confirmation process; so too did attempts to define her “judicial philosophy.” The Conversation has turned to legal scholars to explain the meaning of Jackson’s potential ascension to the court.

1. Realizing MLK’s ‘dream’

The Senate Judiciary Committee vote moving Jackson’s confirmation toward a final Senate roll call took place on April 4, 2022 – 54 years to the day since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The significance of the date was not lost on American University’s Bev-Freda Jackson.

King’s words came up in Jackson’s confirmation hearing. Republican lawmakers suggested that his vision of an America in which people are judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” was at odds with critical race theory, a concept much maligned by conservatives that holds that racism is structural in nature rather than expressed solely through personal bias. Their implication: that Jackson believed in critical race theory and therefore rejected King’s vision.

Martin Luther King

By Yoichi Okamoto – Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. Image Serial Number: A1030-17aPublic Domain.

Bev-Freda Jackson argues that this is a distortion. “By recasting anti-racism as the new racism, conservative GOP leaders … use King’s words that advocated for a colorblind society as a critical part of their national messaging to advance legislation that bans the teachings of so-called divisive concepts,” she writes.

“Ketanji Brown Jackson is the very dream that King envisioned,” Jackson notes. “But he died before seeing the results of his nonviolent movement for social justice.”

2. On the shoulders of pioneers

Now confirmed as the next Supreme Court justice, Jackson has broken through the ultimate glass ceiling in terms of legal careers. She did so so on the shoulders of pioneering Black female judges.

University of Florida’s Sharon D. Wright Austin notes, even now, “relatively few Black women are judges at the state or federal level” – which makes the achievement of those who have made it to this level all the more remarkable.

Of the judges highlighted by Austin, there is Judge Jane Bolin, who became the country’s first Black female judge in 1939, serving as a domestic relations judge in New York for almost four decades. Later, in 1961, Constance Baker Motley became the first Black woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court. In all she argued 10 cases before the court, winning nine of them. Meanwhile, Judge Julia Cooper Mack is noted as the first Black woman to sit on a federal appellate court, having been appointed in 1975 and serving 14 years on the bench.

These women are to be celebrated and remembered. As Austin writes, “Representation matters: It is easier for young girls of color to aspire to reach their highest goals when they see others who have done so before them, in the same way that women like Jane Bolin, Constance Baker Motley and Julia Cooper Mack encouraged Ketanji Brown Jackson to reach hers.”

3. Echoes of the past

The fact that a Black female Supreme Court justice is long overdue is testament to the slow progress the U.S. has made toward racial – and gender – equality.

Margaret Russell, a constitutional law professor from Santa Clara University, saw signs of this lack of advancement during parts of Jackson’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings.

Questions directed at the would-be Supreme Court justice were, according to Russell, tantamount to race-baiting. They also sounded eerily similar to criticisms that then-Supreme Court nominee Thurgood Marshall, the first Black American nominee to the court, faced in his own confirmation hearings in 1967.

Both Jackson, now, and Marshall, then, stood accused by senators of being soft on crime and were asked about how they intended to bring race into their legal decisions. “Are you prejudiced against white people in the South?” Marshall was asked by a known white supremacist senator. Similarly, Jackson was asked during her confirmation hearings if she had a “hidden agenda” to incorporate critical race theory into the legal system.

“I find it striking,” Russell writes, “that race has surfaced in such a major way in these hearings, more than five decades after Marshall’s nomination. In some respects, there has been progress on racial equity in the U.S., but aspects of these hearings demonstrate that too much remains the same.”

Ketanji Brown Jackson

President Joe Biden, with Vice President Kamala Harris, greet Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in the Blue Room of the White House, after officially nominating her to the Supreme Court, Friday, February 25, 2022. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

4. What Jackson would bring to the Supreme Court

Jackson’s historic achievement of becoming the first Black female Supreme Court justice may distract from the fact she is also eminently qualified to sit on the highest court in her own right.

Alexis Karteron of Rutgers University-Newark notes that the Harvard Law-trained Jackson went on to clerk for Stephen Breyer, the retiring justice she is set to replace. She has served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission as well as acting as both a trial court and appellate judge.

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Jackson is also the first former criminal defense attorney to be nominated to the Supreme Court since Marshall. This puts Jackson in a unique position on the bench. Karteron writes that having served as a public defender “will help [Jackson] understand the very real human toll of our criminal justice system. … The criminal justice system takes an enormous toll on both the people in the system and their loved ones. I believe having a Supreme Court justice who is familiar with that is incredibly valuable.”

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives and updates an earlier version originally published on April 4, 2022.The Conversation

Matt Williams, Breaking News Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Justice Sotomayor

SCOTUS Justice Sotomayor Leadership Award from Hispanic Heritage Foundation

The Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF), an award-winning nonprofit organization established by the White House in 1987, will be granting U.S Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor the Leadership Award at the 29th Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards.

Justice Sotomayor

US Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor speaks during a Commonwealth Club event as she promotes her new book ‘My Beloved World’ (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The ceremony will take place on September 22 at the historic Warner Theatre in Washington, DC. The Awards will include recognition of other Latino leaders’ contributions and accomplishments in various fields including, among others, actress and singer Angelica Maria and Pulitzer Prize author Junot Diaz.

“The Hispanic Heritage Foundation is extremely proud to be able to honor Justice Sotomayor with our Leadership Award,” said Jose Antonio Tijerino, president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. “The decision was not difficult,” he told in an exclusive interview.

Jose Antonio Tijerino, President and CEO Hispanic Heritage Foundation

Jose Antonio Tijerino, President and CEO Hispanic Heritage Foundation

Tijerino believes Sotomayor embodies what it means to be an American. “More than anyone, her life represents the values and contributions of a true American who has battled difficult situations. Her story is a story of struggle and triumph through service,” he shared.

Justice Sotomayor, an exemplary life

Sonia Sotomayor was born in the Bronx, New York, from parents of Puerto Rican descent. She lost her father at an early age and her mother worked hard to educate both her and her brother.

As a young activist, she was involved in Puerto Rican organizations such as Acción Puertorriqueña and Third World Center during her college years. She graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1976.

Sotomayor received the Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, established in 1921, awarded to the senior who most clearly manifested excellent scholarship, strength of character and effective leadership.

She then continued her studies at Yale Law School earning her J.D. in 1979 and serving as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. After that, she served as Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s Office from 1979–1984.

Lee la vida de Sonia Sotomayor en espanol

After some years in private practice, in 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, serving in that role until 1998.

Then promoted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Sotomayor was nominated by President Barack Obama as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on May 26, 2009. Justice Sotomayor assumed this role on August 8, 2009.

Her life has been focused on service reflected in the story she tells in her book My Beloved World. “Her story is the story of all immigrants; my mother used to say ‘Remember you have to pay double for what you receive because you are an immigrant’ and I have also lived by those words,” Tijerino said.

Presenting America with a value proposition

Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize winner/author

Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize winner/author, to receive HFF award

“This year more than ever in my 29-year career, I see the imperative need to present America with examples such as Justice Sotomayor and other prominent Latino leaders we are recognizing this year,” the head of the HHF said. “These leaders convey a critical value proposition of what it means to be a true American in the harsh context of immigrant bashing by some political candidates,” he added.

The Awards were established in 1987 by The White House to commemorate the creation of Hispanic Heritage Month in America. They serve as a launch of HHF’s year-round, award-winning programs which inspire, prepare and connect Latino leaders in the classroom, community and workforce to meet America’s needs in priority fields.

“Our obligation is to tell these stories as you,, are also doing. The value is there, the talent is there. By promoting these stories, we are creating opportunities for ourselves,” Tijerino said. “We are not victims, ‘no hay que aguantar.’ We need to expose these examples to opinion leaders and stay at it, reminding them that we represent 60 million people in this country,” the CEO concluded.


For more information on the mission of HHF visit To attend the 29th Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards, please visit here.