Ketanji Brown Jackson Is Qualified as a Mother and a Professional and That Matters
Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is one step closer to becoming the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. As her confirmation hearings move forward, those of us watching at home can't help but notice what sets Brown Jackson apart. Her role as a working mother makes her sensitive to the pressure to be perfect that so many parents feel. Her credentials make her more qualified than many of her peers and predecessors but, overwhelmingly, she's been treated as if she's underqualified. And viewers detect differences in this confirmation hearing compared to others. South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham stormed out of Tuesday's hearing and Texas Senator Ted Cruz asked if she believes babies are racist.
The disrespect she has experienced hasn't gone unnoticed by those watching online. "By cutting her off and attempting to force her into an argument that is not being made, his goal is to elicit an emotional response," tweeted Atlanta-based author Goldie Taylor. "Graham trying to break her temperament which he could/ would then condemn her for."
Despite all of this, Brown Jackson remained calm and collected.
Brown Jackson is a Harvard Law graduate who currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. We've seen members of her family at the confirmation hearing. Her two daughters support her and many of us noticed that her husband became noticeably emotional during the hearings. Brown Jackson was raised in Miami, Florida by parents who were public school teachers. Her father eventually became a lawyer and her mother moved on to become a principal. We're hopeful that her strong family connections prove that she'll support policies that prioritize Black families.
But the first two days of the confirmation hearing involved Republican senators' efforts to identify weaknesses in her perspectives on crime, race and identity, and abortion including attempts to falsely characterize her as lenient on sex offenders who have commited crimes against children. The approach taken by Republicans is one with which Black professionals are painfully familiar.
As mother to Talia, 21, and Leila, 17, Jackson has been public and transparent about the effort required to balance motherhood and a professional career. She spoke further to the difficulty of juggling work and home, in response to a question from Senator Cory Booker. This time she addressed her daughters directly, offering a comforting depiction of motherhood.
Brown Jackson spoke of the pressure young women feel when faced with the conflicting demands of "momentous events" of professional life and motherhood. "... I hope for [my daughters] ... seeing me move to the Supreme Court, that they can know you don't have to be perfect in your career trajectory and you can still end up doing what you want to do," she said before continuing. "You just have to understand that there are lots of responsibilities in the world. You don't have to be a perfect mom, but if you do your best and you love your children, things will turn out okay."
The sentiment continues to resonate with millions—especially mothers and caretakers—who find themselves sandwiched between the demands of the workforce and the household, trying to hold it all together.
If appointed, we hope she will bring a fresh and inclusive perspective to issues that are facing families and will be decided by the Supreme Court. Her experience makes it hard to know exactly how Brown Jackson would rule on America's hot button issues Abortion access and affirmative action are key issues for today's supreme court but Judge Brown Jackson hasn't ruled on an abortion case. Still, her history of having supported reproductive rights groups, efforts to reduce disparities in sentencing for drug penalties, and support for environmental projections and civil rights leave experts believe her nomination would be positive for issues on American health.
All of these issues matter to Black communities who are vulnerable to disparities in all aspects of the criminal justice system, face environmental racism, and numerous barriers to necessary reproductive health services.
As Vice Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Jackson worked to reduce unwarranted disparities in sentencing. She also previously worked as a public defender and would be the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court. Her daughter was one of the first to speak about her mother filling a Supreme Court seat following Justice Anthony Scalia's death.
President Biden acknowledged the significance of this step, and the need for better representation, during Judge Jackson's introduction and the official announcement of her nomination. It won't shift the make-up of the court, which has six conservative justices and three liberal justices. Still, it's evidence of slow progress towards a more representative democracy.
"For too long, our government, our courts haven't looked like America," Biden said. "I believe it's time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications, and that we inspire all young people to believe that they can one day serve their country at the highest level."
Judge Ketanji Brown Jacksons confirmation is an important step in the right direction. But it also illuminates much of what's wrong with how we treat Black professionals—especially when they're women.