On Monday, the Senate began confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee to replace Justice Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court. Judge Jackson is an exceptionally qualified jurist with a breadth and depth of legal experience equal to and even exceeding many of the sitting justices. She is currently a judge on an influential and powerful appellate court, with extensive prior achievements as a trial judge, a lawyer in private practice at multiple high-powered firms, and a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. She would also be the first former public defender on the Supreme Court, a widely underrepresented background on the federal bench.
Supreme Court justices have not always “looked like America.”
In his announcement speech, Biden emphasized his decision to nominate the first Black woman to the Court, noting that Supreme Court justices have not always “looked like America.” But the necessity of Judge Jackson’s confirmation is not simply about adding a judge who helps the Court look like America, but one who actively protects and expands the rights of all Americans, especially Black and brown communities, moving a step closer to the inclusive, multiracial democracy America can and should be.
Given her impeccable resume with diverse experiences, and her personal history—which includes family members in law enforcement and others who have suffered at the hands of an unequal criminal legal system—Judge Jackson is unique in having a background that equips her to truly uphold equal justice under the law.
She has also issued decisions upholding labor rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, reproductive freedom, and environmental protections.
Furthermore, Judge Jackson has proven an ability to face controversial cases head on. As a federal judge, she ruled that former Trump White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II had to comply with a congressional subpoena as part of the hearings during the congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. During her time as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Jackson ended unequal punishments for crack cocaine versus powder cocaine, sentences that explicitly discriminated against Black and brown Americans, and in her final year as a commissioner, cut sentences for most federal drug offenders. She has also issued decisions upholding labor rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, reproductive freedom, and environmental protections.
That diverse personal and professional experience has earned praise from both sides of the aisle. Judge Jackson was confirmed to 2 federal judgeships with bipartisan support, first in 2013, and a second time in 2021, to her current seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley applauded her work on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan supported her first nomination to the federal bench, as well as her current nomination to the Supreme Court.
Judge Jackson is indisputably right for the job.
Yet Jackson has faced unfounded and racist attacks since being named as the nominee and can expect even more as these hearings proceed. While members of the Senate seek to tarnish her candidacy by framing her nomination as nothing more than an effort to appease progressives, they cannot negate, diminish, or ignore her qualifications. Judge Jackson is indisputably right for the job.
Upon her confirmation, we must acknowledge that she alone will not change the radical conservative composition of the Court. One Black woman—albeit a supremely qualified one—cannot singlehandedly transform a Court whose anti-democratic and racially unjust decisions have had enormously negative effects on Black and brown Americans. Before the Court are several matters that intimately affect people of color, among them voting rights, abortion access, gun control, and environmental protection. As Demos has previously argued, we must expand the Supreme Court, adding 4 more associate justices to ensure more justice is served. This would bring the total number of justices to 13, in line with the number on federal district courts. Congress has the power to pass the Judiciary Act of 2021 and expand the Court. As Laura Williamson, Demos’ Associate Director of Policy and Research wrote in 2021, “We need more justices who will apply precedent and principle, and to balance the current radicalism of the Court and restore its legitimacy in our system of government.”
In addition to confirming Judge Jackson without delay, President Biden and Congress must work to expand the Court. It is our best hope for protecting our democracy and for a Supreme Court that truly represents the interests of all the American people.