With historic firsts abounding, Senate OKs Jackson for High Court
NAACP graphic celebrating the senate confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the High Court. | AP

WASHINGTON—With historic firsts abounding, including the nation’s first-ever Black and woman Vice President in the chair, senators confirmed the nation’s first-ever Black woman Supreme Court justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the High Court bench.

And the 53-47 vote for Jackson marks yet several more historic firsts, as both senators and advocates for her nomination pointed out. One other notable first: A roar of cheers and applause in the sedate Senate chamber when VP Kamala Harris announced the tally’s result.

“This has taken far too long,” NAACP President Derrick Jackson said in a statement, one of a long list of comments on the historic event of the day.

Barely able to conceal her joy, Mariah Watson, a third-year law student at Harvard Law said, “She showed it can be done. Even after having to work twice as hard to achieve this great victory, she did it.” Watson said, “Judge, I mean Justice Brown, has inspired us all.” She told an MSNBC reporter last night how Judge Brown regularly went back to her law school to talk with and inspire students.

“Fifty-five years ago, former NAACP Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall broke down the wall when he was confirmed as the first Black American to sit on the Supreme Court. Today, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson shatters the glass ceiling to finally make room for a Black woman on our nation’s highest court,” Derrick Johnson said yesterday.

Black women gathered for a joyful demonstration outside the court as the vote occurred on April 7, and sponsoring groups, including the Service Employees and AFSCME, planned a mass late-afternoon rally today to celebrate.

Besides being the first Black woman in the court’s 233-year history, another first Jackson will bring when she officially takes the oath of office on July 1 is the end of the white-male majority on the nine-justice bench.

When the court starts its new term, with Justice Jackson, next fall, the court will have four white men—all nominated by Republican presidents—four women, and one Black man, Clarence Thomas.

And while one conservative, Chief Justice John Roberts, and five right-wingers will hold ideological sway, the three-woman minority on the court will be Black (Jackson), Latina (Sonia Sotomayor), and Jewish (Elena Kagan). The fourth woman is Donald Trump-named white Amy Coney Barrett.

Jackson will also be the first Floridian native ever on the court, its first former public defender, the first former trial court judge since Justice Sotomayor, the first former defense attorney since Justice Marshall, and the first-ever former magazine reporter and journalist. She wrote for Time in 1992-93.

Unions and civil rights groups hailed the historic nature of Jackson’s ascension from her current post on the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. The one wrench thrown into the celebrations was the partisan nature of the Senate vote. Republicans Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were the only Republicans to join all 48 Democrats and both independents in voting for Judge Jackson.

When the Democrats stood in sustained applause lasting a minute after Vice President Harris announced the results only Romney joined them in standing up to applaud. All the other Republicans unceremoniously left the hall, not one able to bring themselves to at least recognize the historic accomplishment that had just been achieved.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler—the first-ever woman to lead the nation’s leading labor confederation—called Jackson’s confirmation “a victory for our democracy and our nation.” It marks “a new era for our country,” she stated.

Judge Jackson “personified grace and integrity in the face of many outrageous attacks on her character and impeccable credentials. Judge Jackson has the experience, temperament, and commitment to ensure the judicial fairness we need in an associate justice. Her intellect, legal knowledge, and record of upholding justice under the law will be invaluable as she makes decisions that directly impact the lives of working people, and champions equal rights.

“Judge Jackson’s life story and the milestone she has reached send a potent message to women and girls across this nation that nothing—not even a seat on our highest court—is out of their reach.

The federation listed similar cheers from a wide range of unions: The Communications Workers, the Auto Workers, the Office and Professional Employees, AFA-CWA, the Steelworkers, IATSE, the Professional and Technical Employees, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Teachers (AFT), the Machinists, Actor’s Equity, the Government Employees (AFGE), and AFSCME.

“Justice Jackson is immensely qualified, and our coalition is thrilled to finally see the first Black woman serve on our nation’s highest court. By any standard, Justice Jackson is more than ready for this role,” said Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights—even after LCCHR, in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, sharply criticized the blatant political posturing and lies some members produced during the panel’s confirmation hearings on her nomination.

“She possesses an exemplary record of defending the rights of all people, from her time as a public defender to her years of service as a district and circuit court judge. The Supreme Court has a long way to go toward fully representing our communities and fulfilling the promise of ‘equal justice under law,’ but this confirmation brings us hope that it is possible.

The other 47 Senate Republicans voted “no,” and their attitude was even worse, Henderson wrote the panel. It tied on partisan lines, 11-11, on her nomination. CWA also criticized Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the rest of the GOP for trying to derail the nomination.

LCCHR didn’t name names, but the nastiest attacks came from three white male extremist Republicans who plan presidential runs: Ted Cruz (Texas), Tom Cotton (Arkansas), and Josh Hawley (Missouri), an instigator of the Trumpite mob that invaded the Capitol for an attempted coup on Jan. 6, 2021.

“The attacks on Judge Jackson’s record grossly mischaracterize her work and threaten the ideals of our democracy,” LCCHR wrote. “Despite these inappropriate and knowingly misleading attacks, Judge Jackson showed a poised and patient judicial temperament, reminding senators that constitutional protections are not privileges reserved for a select few, but rights afforded to us all. This is a much-needed perspective on our highest court.

“With no basis upon which to honestly question Judge Jackson’s impressive qualifications, some senators made false statements about Judge Jackson’s sentencing practices in a sad and transparent attempt to derail her path to confirmation.

“Attacks on Judge Jackson for her zealous defense of her clients, including her defense of clients detained at Guantanamo Bay, are misguided attempts to score political points while undermining the fundamental right to counsel,” it added.

A bitter Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell turned his back on his celebrating colleagues and walked out of the chamber with everyone in his unhappy caucus following him. McConnell later vowed, in an interview with a reporter, to again discard the Constitution if Republicans should take back the Senate this year. His plan, in that case, would be to block any nominations from coming to the floor, as he did when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland. The Constitution assigns the filling of Supreme Court seats to the president with the “advice and consent” of the Senate. It says nothing about the Senate having the power to keep Court vacancies open until the Senate Majority leader gets a president he likes.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.