We are witnessing a historic moment. For the first time in our nation’s history, the president has nominated a Black woman to sit on the United States Supreme Court.
As a Black woman attorney, I can confidently say that I have been waiting for this nomination for a very long time. Civil rights attorney Maya Wiley put it perfectly: “It meant that our qualifications had some chance of finally being judged on our success, rather than dismissed because of stereotypes.”
That Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a highly qualified, über-competent, and all-around powerhouse of a judge is no surprise. There have been so many Black woman legal scholars, judges, and advocates who have been wrongly overlooked and who deserved the opportunity to sit on the Supreme Court bench. But I’m still so grateful that this moment is happening. My son, who is 10 months old, will get to grow up in a country with a Supreme Court justice who looks like his mom and who understands that, as SisterSong executive director Monica Simpson said to me this week, “it is beyond necessary to have the intersections of our lives reflected in legal language.”
During her nomination hearings, Judge Jackson taught a master class in diplomatic poise in the face of racist and sexist dog whistles. We witnessed “the strength that Black women have to pass on to our daughters,” the author and UC Irvine law professor Michele Bratcher Goodwin said. “We are taught to walk through fire. This poise is about survival and the attempt to attain a thin slice of thriving, bit by bit.”
When Senator John Kennedy “complimented” Judge Jackson for being articulate, she responded with a cool and collected candor that told me she has been training for this exact moment her entire life. Her response was accompanied by a familiar Black woman facial expression. It is the face I saw my mom assume as she smiled and responded calmly when clerks in expensive stores looked at us with suspicion, wondering, “What could they possibly be shopping for?” She also gave a polite but I-know-what-you’re-really-insinuating smile to the parents of my white high school friends who told us they were happy that affirmative action policies exist because they allowed me to gain access to a college that their children did not get accepted into. Appearing unbothered in the face of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia is the only way to survive as a Black woman in America.
But Judge Jackson’s nomination and confirmation process is not only important for Black women like me; it is also a necessary step toward achieving the long-sought goal of representation and inclusion that our Constitution promises: “We the people.” We have more than earned this seat at the most powerful table in our country, and I, like Senator Cory Booker, am not letting anything or anyone take away my exuberant joy.
I had the privilege of speaking with fellow Black woman lawyers and advocates about what this moment means for them. Here are my questions and their answers, in the hopes that you too take the time to reflect on and luxuriate in this special occasion.
As Black woman lawyers and/or advocates, what does Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination mean for you?
Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective: “I am overjoyed. Watching her face, seeing [her] natural hair and brown skin, and watching such a beautiful Black woman holding her composure, sitting in her power, and holding it down during these hearings is everything. As a Black lesbian Southern creative, I root myself in the firm mantra of #TrustBlackWomen as I do my work in reproductive justice, and she is the epitome of that to me. If #TrustBlackWomen had a face, it would be hers.”
Victoria Kirby York, deputy executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition: “Our judicial history is filled with pages of primarily white people interpreting laws that had specific impacts on people of color—particularly Black people. Judge Brown Jackson’s confirmation means that at least on the highest court, we would be closer to gender and racial parity than ever before, with an additional perspective of someone not born with generational wealth.”
April Dawson, associate dean of technology and innovation and professor of law at North Carolina Central University: “I have studied the US Supreme Court for many years, and the significance of having a Black woman on the precipice of becoming a justice…cannot be overstated. I am personally inspired by Judge Brown Jackson, and her journey motivates me in my role as a professor of law to continue to support and encourage the next generation of Black woman attorneys and judges.”
Kim Tignor, cofounder of #SheWillRise: “When we started #SheWillRise, because we need a Black woman on the Supreme Court, one of the first questions that we would get, even from Black folks, was, ‘Does that woman exist?’ Not only does she exist; we created an entire slate of women who could step into those shoes. The goal is that no one ever asks us that question again. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is the first, but she will not be the last.”
What aspects of this nomination and confirmation process stood out to you?
Khiara M. Bridges, professor of law at UC Berkeley School of Law: “When President Biden said he was going to nominate a Black woman, and the immediate response was ‘But she is unqualified’ before they even knew who the nominee was going to be, [it] was personally offensive, because the implication was that there was not one Black woman out there qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. The implication was that I wasn’t qualified to sit on the Supreme Court, and neither were any of my brilliant legal Black feminist colleagues—and that is just not true.”
Monica Simpson: “The number of times we’ve had to hold our composure, whether they were throwing food at us at a lunch counter or trying to trample us as we are walking through a school for the first time—that needs to be acknowledged. We need to have a whole day of celebration for the countless Black women who have had to walk through violence to make history happen. We are witnessing another example, at the highest court in the land, of a Black woman having to endure violent rhetoric and disrespect to make history happen.”
Michele Bratcher Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor at UC Irvine and author of Policing the Womb (2020): “We are witnessing in real time the many different ways of dog whistling. There is an overt dog whistling which our country has been explicit about in law and society. But there is also a kind of dog whistling that takes place when one makes roadkill of the US Constitution to make a point that somehow [Judge Jackson] has done something wrong in her career by actually upholding the Constitution and representing people who are criminal defendants.”
Victoria Kirby York: “I hope the beautiful way Senator Cory Booker had Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s back during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing echoes with more brothers fighting for issues that specifically impact Black women and LGBTQ+/SGL people.”
How have you been taking care of yourself as you witness the white cisheteronormative supremacy and misogyny on display throughout this process?
Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO, National Women’s Law Center: “I, in community with other Black women, took the time to prepare ourselves as we entered this moment. We began the week with pure joy. We had the best joyful affirmation brunch with #SheWillRise. We had a joyful, inspiring rally outside of the Supreme Court. For me, Black women celebrating other Black women is the best thing ever, and I didn’t even know then how much I would need that preparation.”
Kierra Johnson, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force: “In some ways it has served as an affirmation that I am not making [the racism and sexism that are still prevalent] up. The affront to our humanity—my humanity, my leadership, my gender, my femme expression, my race—it’s real. These micro- and macro-aggressions are deeply hurtful, pervasive, and debilitating, and although we’ve come a long way, we still have a long way to go. And while it can be daunting, I am taking care of myself by reveling in hope, because this moment shows me that anything is possible.”