The Significance of Ketanji Brown-Jackson’s Confirmation Hearings
By Ella Olson
On April 7th, 2022, Ketanji Brown-Jackson became the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Her nomination and confirmation are joyous occasions, and she is making history. That being said, her confirmation hearings will also go down in history, as they followed a theme of unhinged questioning that had nothing to do with her qualification as a candidate. Instead, Republican senators picked the most irrelevant topic they could, forcing Jackson into many uncomfortable situations that she could not escape. Her confirmation should and will be celebrated, but to fail to acknowledge the injustices that took place is choosing to overlook flaws within the system. In order to understand the significance of Jackson’s confirmation as a black woman, the insanity that is confirmation hearings needs to be addressed.
History & Qualifications
Jackson may very well be the most qualified candidate that the Supreme Court has seen in years. She graduated from Harvard Law, and clerked for the Supreme Court. Jackson is also the only justice to have experience as a public defender. She worked at the federal public defender’s office in D.C. for 2.5 years, representing a variety of clients. This background sets her apart from other justices. Jackson has seen first hand how the criminal justice system works, specifically for lower-income convicts and defendants. Additionally, she has knowledge of the U.S. Sentencing Commision, and the only other justice that does is Breyer, who she is replacing. The Sentencing Commision works to prevent disparities in prosecution, as well as promote transparency within sentencing. Again, this training sets Jackson up to have an appropriate understanding of the more people-oriented side of the law, as she has worked first hand with those in the criminal justice system. Jackson brings more experience as a judge as well, as she has served in both a court of appeals and a district court, making her much more qualified then her fellow justices. She brings a fresh perspective to the court, and there is no doubt that she is extremely qualified. Any criticisms of Jackson hold no validity if they come from her history for she has an extensive understanding of the criminal justice system and experience with those who are often abused by it.She brings diversified experience to the courts, with her identity as a woman of color, but more importantly because of her job qualifications. First and foremost, her ability to do the job well is what should be considered. Republican senators overlooked that, choosing instead to further isolate women of color by failing to treat Jackson with any ounce of respect.
Injustices of Confirmation Hearings
It is exciting news that Jackson was officially confirmed, though not all that surprising. Unfortunately, it also wasn’t very surprising that Republican senators chose to ask questions of Jackson that had nothing to do with her job or her previous work, and only succeeded in looking more foolish themselves. There are numerous examples of the questions and responses Jackson gave that she shouldn’t have had to, but a select few are worth mentioning because of the absurdity behind them.
First is Lindsey Graham as a whole. Graham, who chose to interrupt anyone and everyone that he could, treated Jackson with very little respect throughout the whole process. He previously supported Jackson when she was being confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but changed sides at the thought of her being on the Supreme Court. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki questioned this, asking Graham “What exactly has changed since he voted to support her just recently — relatively recently? She has the exact same credentials, exact same qualifications.” Psaki brings up a valid point, and Graham claimed that the Supreme Court required different considerations for the job, at least in his mind. He further stated that “Her record is overwhelming in its lack of a steady judicial philosophy and a tendency to achieve outcomes in spite of what the law requires or common sense would dictate,” clearly disregarding any and all answers Jackson gave during her hearings that would prove him otherwise. If Graham felt that his criticism and lack of support wasn’t clear enough already, he dropped the final ball on the day of the confirmation vote, by not wearing a tie, and therefore was not allowed to vote on the Senate floor. While he was still allowed to vote, it’s clear that Graham’s lack of respect for Jackson came from nothing reasonable. He is allowed to truly oppose her and her nomination, but by refusing to even set foot on the Senate floor to cast his vote, he made it apparent that he did not respect her even as a person. It’s a very bad look for Graham, who does enough on a daily basis to warrant dislike, and really didn’t need help in garnering more.
Fortunately for Graham, Ted Cruz seemed determined to convince the public that he had an even worse attitude towards Jackson. And to convince them he did, Cruz followed an insane line of questioning, bouncing from the question of if babies are racist, to even asking if he could identify as Asian if he wanted to. He began with a book taught at Georgetown Day School, a private elementary school, that stated that children are taught to be racist. This line of questioning went on for quite a while, with Jackson repeatedly stating that she was unaware how this was involved with her past work as a judge. Still, Cruz was not deterred to stop and think reasonably at any point during his 30 minutes of questioning, and I suppose he deserves some credit for sticking to the bit as well as he did. One would think that at one point he would realize the absurdity of what he was asking, but he never did. After seeming to finish any questions involving racist children, he moved on to cover transphobic viewpoints, which also included Cruz comparing transgender people to changing his race. His main point was to ask if Jackson believed that transgender folks could change their gender in order to challenge gender discrimination claims, which he equated as being the same as if he woke up one morning and decided that he was Asian. Once again, it’s not entirely clear what response he wanted from Jackson. She again prompted that this really had nothing to do with her qualifications or prior job experience. Cruz’s line of questioning followed no real rationale, and it seemed to achieve nothing other than displaying his disdain for Jackson without backing it up. Jackson had to answer these questions while maintaining a modicum of respect if she wanted to garner support of Republicans and the American public. It is an unfair situation to put her in, and Cruz took advantage of the fact that she couldn’t escape it or call out the atrocities of the questions she was facing. Whether it was because she was a woman, or a black woman, Cruz had no justification in any of his disputes, but that’s never stopped him before.
Many other situations from the confirmation hearings followed the same theme as Graham and Cruz, such as Marsha Blackburn asking Jackson to define what a woman was, without giving any context to the question at all. All in all, it’s clear that Republican representatives followed no clear justifications for the questions they asked. They rarely attempted to connect it to the Constitution or the duties she would face as a Supreme Court Justice. Whether they are intimidated by Jackson’s qualifications or the color of her skin, it doesn’t make what happened right. She was confirmed with a vote of 53–47, as Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney crossed the fences. These days, it is incredibly rare for the opposite party to vote to confirm a nomination. The last instance was in 1993 with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, when 95% of Republicans voted to confirm her. The polarization of political parties has made it so that this will likely never be seen again. Jackson fought harder and endured more than any Supreme Court nominee should have to. She earned her position and her right to be there, and deserved to answer questions about her work, and not about topics that had absolutely nothing to do with her history in the justice system.
Jackson’s hearings were an inside view of what black women face on the daily in the workplace. No matter the qualifications that she had, or the experiences she had faced, Republican senators did not believe that she could do the job. Many women of color look to leave their jobs, because of something called the ‘inclusion delusion’. It’s “the conundrum of being highly visible as the first or only woman of color at their organization and at the same time never feeling like they belong, are respected, or have power.” The inclusion delusion gives the promise of change in an evolving world, as diversity increases and women of color fill positions that they were never able to before. Unfortunately, it exists within a fairly concrete system. Corporations promote promises of titles and power without any real intent to support women of color in better ways. Jackson’s hearings displayed this. The way Congress treated her will likely discourage many other women of color from pursuing the same route. No one would want to willingly put up with that behavior. Even though her confirmation is significant for women of color everywhere, it doesn’t provide a system where others could succeed just as well as white people. Particularly the white men of Congress, though many white women as well, did not provide Jackson with an environment that displayed respect for her accomplishments.
As usual though, all is not lost. While Jackson’s hearings supported the ideals of the inclusion delusion, the cycle does not have to continue. Her confirmation is significant for women of color everywhere, just as the confirmation of Kamala Harris as Vice President was. Ketanji Brown-Jackson made history, with certainly no help from the majority of Republican senators. Her presence on the Supreme Court may not change the leanings of the Court as a whole, but that doesn’t change the significance of her past, as well as her future.
Ella Olson is a high school senior from Sumner, Washington and a blog writer for Youth Upholding Democracy. The views reflected in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Youth Upholding Democracy.