Ketanji Jackson’s nomination modernizes the Supreme Court


Graphic by Evelyn Shue

Ketanji Jackson introduces a new perspective that the Court has gone far too long without.

Riona Sheikh, Opinions Writer

Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice in April 2022, making her the first African-American woman to be a Justice. There is no doubt that her nomination may have been partially due to her race and gender. However, the meaningful impact of the nomination of a qualified African-American woman to the Supreme Court outweighs any ‘bias’ in her selection. The negative responses to Jackson’s nomination are indicative of the racism that stems from America’s past.

The most common argument against Jackson’s nomination is that it is wrong to choose a Justice for the highest court of the land mainly based on their race and gender. Historically, it is true that the Supreme Court was intended to be free of public opinion and political questions. It would interpret laws based solely on what is written in the Constitution, meaning race and gender were not originally factors. 

However, since the beginnings of the judicial branch, the Supreme Court could never truly be restricted to the little power it was directly granted by the Constitution. For example, 1803’s Marbury v. Madison established judicial review, the power of the judicial branch to rule on the constitutionality of other federal branches, just decades after the formation of the Supreme Court. 

Additionally, the power of judicial review gives the judicial branch a huge upper hand in the three-branch system of American government. The judicial branch also has a massive influence on the legislative branch through judicial implementation, the method of making court ruling law, and through judicial review. The Court has the power to deem any action by the executive branch illegal. 

The Court has also been ruling on more controversial and vexing topics such as segregation, separation of church and state and LBGTQ+ rights. “The Supreme Court’s power has expanded since what constitutes political questions is open for debate,” says Social Studies teacher Mr. Jonathan Taylor.

Despite the growing racial and gender diversity of the legislative and executive branches, the judicial branch remained extremely homogeneous. Statistics show that in the history of the Supreme Court, about 94% of Justices were White men. However, given the kinds of cases the Court has ruled on, the demographic makeup of the Supreme Court is often not representative of or fair to the parties in a case. For example, in 1896’s Plessy v. Ferguson, racial segregation was deemed legal. Every single Justice in that case was a white man despite the case directly concerning the rights of African-American individuals. 

The judicial branch is one in which proper representation is exceedingly important. The reason why there are nine Justices is so that there are nine different perspectives on a case. “It’s unfair when Justices don’t represent the parties in a case because it isn’t fair to the people in the case and could result in a different outcome,” says sophomore Evelyn Cooper. 

A homogenous Court goes against the very definition of the supposedly unbiased Court. Jackson’s nomination as a qualified African-American woman is so critical to fulfilling the true potential of a fair Supreme Court but was also why many people disagree with her nomination.

The doubt surrounding the legitimacy of Jackson’s nomination reeks of racism. Jackson was heckled at her confirmation hearing with the question, “What is a woman?”, a topic that could easily spark controversy. This suggests that the questioners did not approve of Jackson’s nomination due to her gender. However, the idea that some are unhappy with the decision due to gender is merely a ploy to distract from the real issue at hand: race.

It can easily be proven that the reason Jackson’s confirmation was so controversial was simply due to her race far more than her gender given the recent confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett. Despite both nominees identifying as women, their treatment during the confirmation hearings was strikingly different. Many media sources worked to frame Jackson as someone with controversial opinions by specifically asking her off-topic or controversial questions which were not asked to Barrett. 

For example, Jackson was asked for her opinion on Court-packing, an issue packed with controversy that was not a question during Barrett’s nomination. Questioners went so far as to disrespect Jackson’s intelligence by pulling out a children’s book, an action never before done during confirmation hearings, and certainly not done during the recent Barrett’s hearing. 

The difference in treatment of Jackson and Barrett during their respective hearings confirms that many are unwilling for Black people to have proper representation in Court. Jackson’s background as a woman of color provides an entirely new point of view, allowing for more complete understandings of arguments, leading to a more informed – and racially fair – Supreme Court. Some do not wish the Court to rule fairly for Black people – this being the main reason that the backlash against Jackson’s nomination was so strong.

Nevertheless, Jackson was confirmed as the first African-American woman to serve as a Justice on the Supreme Court. For 233 years, the Supreme Court has ruled on cases concerning both Black people and women, and for once comes a Justice who can speak on behalf and have a better general understanding of both those demographics. This is a huge stride for Black people’s and women’s rights in the United States. Despite the racism and sexism that emerged during Jackson’s confirmation, the fact that she secured her seat on the Court shows that America may just be moving away from its poisonous past. Maybe, someday, the Justices can be reflective of the American people as a whole.