On Friday, President Joe Biden made history by nominating the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court: Ketanji Brown Jackson, currently a federal appeals court judge.
Biden’s nomination, fulfilling a promise he made during his campaign, is worth celebrating in its own right. It’s a step toward making the nation’s highest court look a little bit more like the nation itself.
“For too long our government, our courts haven’t looked like America,” Biden said in his nomination remarks at the White House, just before introducing Jackson. “I believe it’s time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation.”
The next step for Jackson will be Senate confirmation hearings. Conservatives are gearing up to oppose Jackson, who would replace retiring liberal Justice Stephen Breyer. Progressive are preparing to defend her record. The hearings are virtually certain to be contentious.
Senators should defy the odds and do better.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, has promised to move forward quickly on the confirmation process, with “the careful, fair and professional approach she and America are entitled to.”
That’s exactly what should happen.
And if a thorough, fair review of Jackson’s record proves her qualifications in terms of experience and character — and the chances are good, based on what we’ve seen so far — senators will have a chance to make history again by confirming her.
Jackson would become the first Black woman, and the second woman of color, on the Supreme Court. Only five other women — Sonia Sotomayor, Amy Coney Barrett, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sandra Day O’Connor — have served on the Court since it was established in 1789. Clarence Thomas and the late Thurgood Marshall are the only two Black jurists to serve.
Progress is being made, albeit slowly.
Stellar resume, surprise endorsement
In choosing Jackson, Biden made it clear that diversity was a priority. But he also made note of her stellar legal accomplishments.
Biden also seemingly threw down the gauntlet to Republicans: Jackson has earned GOP support three times for high-level appointments, including her current federal judgeship.
How do Republicans who backed her in the past — most recently, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who voted to confirm her as a federal appeals judge just last year — say ‘no’ to Jackson now?
In addition to serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Jackson was previously a federal district court judge and a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. She’s been a federal public defender. She was a law clerk for Breyer. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where she was an editor of the Law Review.
Biden praised Jackson as someone with “a pragmatic understanding that the law must work for the American people.”
“She strives to be fair, to get it right, to do justice,” the president said.
Jackson, who has a brother and two uncles who are police officers, also won over the Trump-endorsing National Fraternal Order of Police. On Friday, the group’s president, Patrick Yoes, issued a statement supporting Jackson’s nomination.
“There is little doubt that she has the temperament, intellect, legal experience, and family background to have earned this appointment,” the statement read.
Before the bruising confirmation process begins, it’s worth noting another snippet from history.
During the 1980 presidential campaign, GOP nominee Ronald Reagan made a promise similar to Biden’s: If elected, he would appoint the first woman to the Supreme Court. As president, Reagan nominated O’Connor in July 1981.
O’Connor was approved unanimously — read: with bipartisan support — that September.
The court looked just a little bit more like America. And it happened without angry rants about “affirmative action,” “identity politics,” “quotas” and other nonsense spewed by some loudmouths on the right who were incensed at Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman.
Consider this from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas: “The fact that he’s willing to make a promise at the outset that it must be a Black woman — I gotta say, that’s offensive,” Cruz said on one of his recent podcasts. “Black women are, what, 6% of the U.S. population? He’s saying to 94% of Americans: ‘I don’t give a damn about you. You are ineligible.’”
Then there was Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi: “The irony is that the Supreme Court is at the very same time hearing cases about this sort of affirmative racial discrimination while adding someone who is the beneficiary of this sort of quota,” Wicker said in a January interview with a local radio station.
There’s no place for that sort of ugliness and racial dog-whistling, then and especially now that Jackson is the nominee.
The public, and Jackson of course, deserve better: a fair hearing and a vote on the merits.
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