Image courtesy of Time

By Chris Carey

On January 26, 2022, after nearly three decades of service on the highest court in the land, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced he would retire, paving the way for President Joe Biden’s first nomination of a Supreme Court Justice. 

As promised on the campaign trail in 2020, President Biden solely considered a Black woman to fill Justice Breyer’s seat, saying at the announcement of Breyer’s retirement that “the person [Biden] will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications … And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court.”

After a vetting process and a narrowing of candidates, the administration put forward Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to fill the seat on February 25, 2022.

Born in Washington, DC and raised in Florida, Jackson was a nationally recognized member of her high school’s speech team. Upon graduation, she wished to attend Harvard against the guidance of her counselor. She received her AB in government from Harvard, and would go on to complete her JD there as well. Interestingly, she served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer from 1999 to 2000. 

Jackson has served on the District of Columbia Circuit Court since a bipartisan appointment process in 2021, and before that time, she served on the District of Columbia’s District Court since 2013. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee conducted hearings on Judge Jackson’s nomination during the week of March 21. The week was highlighted by significant Republican resistance to her nomination, including an effort championed by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who was one of three Republican senators that voted to confirm her to the DC Court of Appeals only last year. 

Graham, as well as others such as Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Josh Hawley (R-MO) challenged the nominee on her sentencing of child pornography charges. On Judge Jackson’s choice to not use the maximum sentencing permitted by law for child pornography, Graham said, “I think you’re doing it wrong. And every judge who does what you’re doing is making it easier for the children to be exploited.”

In response, Judge Jackson said, “Every person in all of these charts and documents I sent to jail because I know how serious this crime is,” but defended her sentencing framework by stating, “you can be doing this for 15 minutes, and all of a sudden you are looking at 30, 40, 50 years in prison.”

The laws in question were put on the books well before the emergence of widespread internet capability for child pornography distribution, and Judge Jackson expressed her belief that she followed her sentencing methodology along with the spirit of the law.

Another point of contention during the hearing was relating to an immigration ruling that Judge Jackson previously made, which Senator Graham pointed out as “exhibit A of activism.”

On the other side of the aisle, Chairman Durbin (D-IL) remarked, “you’ve made a mess of their stereotype,” continuing, “the endorsement of the Fraternal Order Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police just doesn’t fit with their stereotype of a Harvard grad Black woman who is aspiring to the highest court in the land.”

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) had a moment during which he noted that no one could “steal [his] joy” at the prospect of Judge Jackson being the first Supreme Court Justice who is a Black woman.

Judge Jackson’s nomination will face a vote of the Judiciary Committee on Monday, April 4.  Stay tuned with The Tower for more coverage on her nomination, as well as the prospects of her confirmation on the makeup of the Supreme Court.

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