During Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, he made a promise that when presented with the opportunity, he would nominate the first black woman to serve on the US Supreme Court. On the 25th of February, this promise was fulfilled, and Ketanji Brown Jackson will be the first black woman justice to serve on the bench in the Supreme Court’s 233-year history.
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the US’s judicial system. This court holds the ultimate decision-making power over all federal and state laws. The Court also holds the ability to strike down laws that violate the US Constitution.
When announcing his intention to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court, Joe Biden said that “For too long our government, our courts, haven’t looked like America. I believe it is time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation.” Judge Jackson’s nomination responds to this statement, and now the Supreme Court is the most demographically diverse it has ever been.
Judge Jackson’s nomination is cause for celebration. Not only does it reward her for her years of service as a federal judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and as a federal public defender, but her nomination shows that the protection and defence of the US Constitution are being entrusted to an increasingly diverse group of people and not only to white men.
Judge Jackson’s nomination is also more monumental than one would think. Judge Jackson will be joining the mere two other women on the court, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, making this Supreme Court the most gender-equal it has ever been. For example, despite representing less than a third of the US population, white men have represented 94% of the 120 Supreme Court justices there have been in US history. Judge Jackson’s nomination is a small, yet significant change in this trend.
Judge Jackson’s nomination is also coming at a time when the Supreme Court is in America’s spotlight, and not necessarily in a good way.
Firstly, judicial independence is being threatened by cutthroat and hypocritical congressional politics. Back in 2016, 9 months before the presidential elections, Former President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. At the time, the Senate was controlled by the GOP and prominent Republican Senators such as Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell blocked Garland’s nomination and justified their actions saying that the American people have the right to decide which President should nominate the next Supreme Court justice. Four years later, justice Amy-Coney Barrett was nominated by Former President Donald Trump a week before the 2020 presidential elections and was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice by a lame-duck Senate filled with Senators who had previously said that “the American people have the right to decide”.
Secondly, a record-low percentage of Americans, around 40%, disapprove of the Supreme Court’s work. It is frightening when a central institution of American democracy is widely looked on disapprovingly. Furthermore, it is even worse when this institution is the one entrusted with defending and interpreting the founding document of American democracy in a fair and impartial way.
And lastly, the Supreme Court is facing an incredible docket of landmark legal cases whose outcomes will fundamentally influence the ethos of America.
Just last week, the Supreme Court heard the case West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency. The justices’ decision will determine this federal agency’s power in issuing and enforcing environmental regulations including greenhouse gas emissions.
In December of last year, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Dobbs v Jackson’s Women Health Organization. This case argues that a law passed by the state of Mississippi prohibiting abortions before 15 weeks is unconstitutional. Considering the Supreme Court’s 6 – 3 conservative majority, the justices seem poised to uphold the Mississippi abortion law and as a result, decades of legal precedent surrounding abortion protection, namely Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, could be overturned, thus severely affecting the lives of millions of Americans.
The Supreme Court is also hearing arguments on landmark cases such as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, which concerns gun control, and Merrill v. Milligan which concerns the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its prohibition of racial gerrymandering.
Simply put, Ketanji Brown Jackson is entering the Supreme Court during a volatile time.
Jackson’s nomination will not have an immediate impact on the state of the Supreme Court as its ideological balance of six conservatives and three liberals will remain the same, however, a fresh face behind the Supreme Court Bench, especially one of a black woman, would be beneficial. Not only will Judge Jackson bring indispensable knowledge and intellectual firepower, but she will also bring the crucial, underrepresented experiences of black women and the oppressed minorities of the American population to the country’s highest court.