First Black Woman to Be Appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Is Confirmed by Senate

On February 25, President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to become the 116th Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Confirmed by the Senate on April 7, Judge Jackson will become the first Black woman to serve in the U.S. Supreme Court.

After Justice Bryer’s retirement, who was associated with the liberal wing of the court, Biden nominated Judge Jackson to take his place, with The White House considering Judge Jackson to be “one of our nation’s brightest legal minds and has an unusual breadth of experience in our legal system.” 

Who is Judge Jackson?

While born in Washington DC, Judge Jackson grew up in Miami, Florida. After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University and then attending Harvard Law School, Judge Jackson clerked for former Justice Stephen Bryer from 1999 to 2000. Serving as an assistant public defender and working in corporate law, Judge Jackson is the only justice on the court with experience as a public defender. 

Aside from her work as a public defender, President Obama nominated Judge Jackson to be the Vice-Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2009. Additionally, President Obama nominated Judge Jackson to serve as a district court judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2012. 

Most recently, Judge Jackson has served as a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

What Took Place During Judge Jackson’s Confirmation Hearings?

During questioning on Tuesday and Wednesday, Republican senators pressed Judge Jackson on her previous sentencing of child pornography offenders as a federal judge and her view on critical race theory.

“I’ve been researching the record of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, reading her opinions, articles, interviews & speeches. I’ve noticed an alarming pattern when it comes to Judge Jackson’s treatment of sex offenders, especially those preying on children. Judge Jackson has a pattern of letting child porn offenders off the hook for their appalling crimes, both as a judge and as a policymaker,” said Senator Josh Hawley on Twitter.

Jackson stated that more goes into her decisions regarding sentences than federal guidelines. Judge Jackson said that sentencing is not a “numbers game.” Additionally, Democratic senators used outside experts to support their claim that Jackson’s sentences were quite typical. 

Along with questioning relating to Jackson’s sentencing on child pornography cases, Senators have also asked questions relating to gender politics in the United States. Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas’s recent NCAA win has sparked debates about the rights of transgender athletes. As a Supreme Court Justice, Judge Jackson will unquestionably preside over cases dealing with transgender rights. 

Senator Marsha Blackburn asked Judge Jackson to “provide a definition for the word ‘woman?’” 

Jackson responded, “I’m not a biologist.”

Senator Blackburn stated that “the fact that you can’t give me a straight answer about something as fundamental as what a woman is underscores the dangers of the kind of progressive education that we are hearing about.”

Scientists and gender law scholars have described that Jackson’s response was somewhat misleading. Though Jackson suggested science is important in defining what the word “woman” means, scientists have come to the conclusion that there is no exact way to define what makes someone a woman. 

“I don’t want to see this question punted to biology as if science can offer a simple, definitive answer,” said Rebecca Jordan-Young, a scientist and gender studies scholar at Barnard College following Jackson’s response.

What does Judge Jackson’s Confirmation Mean?

On Monday, April 4, Jackson’s nomination was put to a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Once the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-11, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for a vote to break the deadlock. On Thursday, April 7, the Senate took two critical steps, voting to limit debates on the judge’s nomination and a final vote to confirm Judge Jackson. Once the Senate voted to limit debates, Judge Jackson was confirmed on a 53-to-47 vote, with three Republicans supporting her, making her the first Black woman to be a Supreme Court Justice. 

“Even in the darkest times, there are bright lights,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader. “Today is one of the brightest lights. Let us hope it’s a metaphor, an indication of many bright lights to come.”

On the other hand, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and an opponent of Judge Jackson’s confirmation, said, “This choice of Judge Jackson was really embraced by the most radical people in the Democratic movement to the exclusion of everyone else.”

“I do like that there is some [Black] representative in the Supreme Court because [the country] doesn’t really get that. You can see both sides of it. [Justice Jackson] is good representation, but also, [race] shouldn’t matter,” said Abby P. ’25

Similarly, when reflecting on Biden’s promise to appoint a Black woman to the court, Jennifer Cutler, Upper School History Teacher said, “I’m appreciative that he considered diversifying the bench.”