Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson accepted her dual roles Friday as the next U.S. Supreme Court justice and as a symbol of racial progress.
Speaking outside the White House with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris looking on, and her voice at times trembling with emotion, Jackson acknowledged the historic milestone her confirmation as the first Black woman on the court represented.
“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States,” she said. “But we’ve made it. We’ve made it, all of us.”
The Senate vote Thursday to put Jackson on the court would have been difficult for her grandparents — who raised her parents in Jim Crow-era Florida — to believe, said Jackson, 51, who grew up in Miami.
Jackson said she’d been “flooded” with cards and notes from well-wishers, and was particularly moved by those from children “because they speak directly to the hope and promise of America.”
“I strongly believe this is a moment in which all Americans can take great pride,” she said. “We have come a long way toward perfecting our union. In my family, it took just one generation to go from my segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Jackson will be sworn in when Justice Stephen Breyer steps down from the court at the end of the current term.
Civil rights leaders
Jackson recognized civil rights icons Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the late Justice Thurgood Marshall and her “personal heroine,” Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge.
“They and so many others did the heavy lifting that made this day possible,” she said. “For all of the talk of this historic nomination and now confirmation, I think of them as the true path breakers. I’m just the very lucky first inheritor of the dream of liberty and justice for all.”
Jackson thanked Breyer, whose seat she will be taking and for whom she worked as a law clerk, praising his “commitment to an independent, impartial judiciary.”
Some U.S. Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, criticized Jackson for not taking a position against adding seats to the Supreme Court, as Breyer had.
Throughout the confirmation process Jackson said that was a question for Congress and declined to state an opinion. Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was nominated by President Donald Trump, answered similarly during her 2020 confirmation hearings.
Jackson said she would work to “uphold the rule of law at the highest level.” As she did throughout her hours of testimony during Senate confirmation hearings, she said she viewed the judicial branch as having limited power.
Some Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, though, have complained that she lacked a judicial philosophy and gave too much weight to her own policy preferences when ruling from the bench.
Other Republicans spent virtually all of their time questioning Jackson about her sentencing in child pornography cases.
Missouri’s Josh Hawley and others said Jackson was too lenient in such cases, though Democrats and judicial experts said her sentencing practices were mainstream.
Biden appeared to allude to those accusations in comments he made before introducing Jackson Friday.
“I knew the person I nominated would be put through a painful and difficult confirmation process,” Biden said Friday. “But I have to tell you, what Judge Jackson was put through was well beyond that. It was verbal abuse, the anger, the constant interruptions, the most vile, baseless assertions and accusations.”
Biden thanked the three Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah — who voted to confirm Jackson.