When Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson stepped to the podium to reflect upon being the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court, she opened with reference to a hymn that I often heard my father singing when I was a child: “We’ve Come This Far by Faith.” “Leaning on the Lord. Trusting in his holy word. He has never failed me yet.”
As a little Black girl, hearing my father sing these lyrics with such conviction always gave me hope; seeing Judge Jackson inspired me beyond measure and reminded me of how far we have come. In that moment, I realized that Judge Jackson was not only speaking to us in the here and now; she was also inviting our ancestors to share in this historic moment.
Judge Jackson’s nomination reflects the hopes and dreams of many in this nation who’ve been excluded. For too long, little Black girls have matured into Black women who, having breathed the toxic air of racism and white supremacy all their lives, quietly question their achievements and wonder if they’re good enough—if they belong.
Pioneers like Judge Jackson affirm that yes, we are good enough – and show that, to scale to heights historically reserved for white men, we must be truly exceptional.
At her nomination announcement, Judge Jackson invoked the legacy of Judge Constance Baker Motley. Indeed, the presence of Judge Motley, with whom Judge Jackson shares a birthday, 49 years removed, and upon whose shoulders many Black women lawyers stand, was palpable. I distinctly remember Judge Motley’s passing in 2005, attended her memorial service in New York City, and wrote a tribute to her many “firsts,” including her being the first Black woman in the history of the federal judiciary, the first Black woman appointed to the federal judiciary in the Southern District of New York, and the first Black woman to argue before the Supreme Court of the United States, winning nine of ten cases.
Judge Jackson’s own achievements, including serving in leadership positions on the bipartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission, on the federal bench as a U.S. District Court Judge and U.S. Circuit Court Judge, and writing hundreds of opinions, should validate her brilliance for those who continue to question a Black woman’s worth and abilities. And graduating twice at the top of her class from an Ivy League college should quiet her skeptics. But it won’t.
On Wednesday night, Tucker Carlson of Fox News called for President Biden to announce Judge Jackson’s LSAT scores to allow Carlson to decide whether she represents one of the country’s “top legal minds” before she is confirmed for a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. This is absurd for multiple reasons. First among them is all of the extraordinary qualifications already mentioned. Second, anyone who has sat for the LSAT knows it tests only your likelihood of success during your first year of law school. It certainly is no barometer of whether you will excel in the legal profession. In fact, there is not a single legal question on the LSAT. Carlson is using the racist standards that have resulted in such little diversity on the Court in the last 232 years. We should not expect a system where 108 of 115 Supreme Court justices have been white men to welcome with open arms the diversity that Judge Jackson’s confirmation to the highest Court will bring.
Judge Jackson embodies not only racial diversity but also, relatedly, diversity of experience. She would be the first former public defender ever on the Court, and this honorable work – by which she safeguarded the constitutional rights of her indigent and often Black clients – will become the source of attacks on character. Her opponents will cite the offenses committed by her clients to try to link her with criminality in the minds of Americans.
In the face of these attacks and others, we will not be moved. There will be thinly veiled attempts to question her intelligence, her decency, and her worth. Let us gird ourselves for the fight ahead. Let us not become discouraged or weary. Let us not cloak ourselves in others’ attempts to disparage our humanity and our sense of belonging during this momentous time.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is not alone. Groups throughout the country, led by Black women, are joining forces and preparing for the fight ahead, and we will win. Judge Jackson is surrounded and protected by Black women and little Black girls walking alongside her with dignity and pride. We will clear a path as she ascends the marble steps leading to the Supreme Court, guided and embraced by her predecessors like Justice Thurgood Marshall and Judge Constance Baker Motley who whisper, “You were made for such a time as this.” You are good enough, and yes, you belong.
Donita Judge is the Associate Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights