Students and Staff discuss Supreme Court appointee Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first African-American woman to join the nation’s highest court.
BY GRACIE HELFRICH, 23′ AND GEORGE BERNARD, 23′. GRAPHICS BY LUCY O’BRIEN, 22′.
On April 7, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed by the Senate to be the next Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, replacing Justice Stephen Breyer when he retires at the end of the current session on Oct. 3, 2022. The vote was 53-47, with all Democrats and three Republicans voting to confirm. Jackson will be the first African American woman as well as the first former public defender on the court.
The process for a judge to be confirmed to the court is lengthy; it involves private interviews with the President and Senators and days of public testimony and questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee. UAHS Government teacher Doug Rinehart teaches the process to his classes.
“Presidents typically say they don’t give what’s called a litmus test, but more often than not they do. They are looking for, ‘Is this person of likemind as me?’ A Democrat is going to typically get a judge who is going to have a judicial philosophy similar to more moderate-to-liberal judges. Whereas if a Republican is in office, you are going to have a more conservative [nominee],” Rinehart said.
Fellow government teacher Abigail Dorsainvil teaches her students the same process. First, a team of advisors compile a list of qualified candidates that the President selects from.
“Usually what happens next is they get vetted,” Dorsainvil said. “[The White House] looks into her background, [and] makes sure she’s safe to nominate. Then, once [the president] nominates her, … they go before the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
Once the nominee reaches the Senate Judiciary Committee, they are questioned by the members of the committee. Due to the current polarized political climate of the country, many of the questions Jackson has received have been very political.
For example, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas proposed the question “Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racist?”
However, there has not always been controversy surrounding the confirmation process.
“In the past, in the early 80s for instance, judges were being confirmed unanimously even at the highest levels,” Rinehart said.
After the failed nomination of Robert Bork in 1987, there was a perception that the way senators voted on nominees changed from being based on qualifications to whether or not they agree with the nominee’s judicial philosophy. This was further exacerbated in early 2016 when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold hearings for President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, saying that he would wait until the next president entered office, infuriating senate Democrats.
Sophomore Gabe Lynd, who is enrolled in Rinehart’s AP Government class, recognizes this as well.
“It’s gonna be political no matter what, ever since Bork, Robert Bork” Lynd said.
In theory, a Supreme Court Justice is not supposed to impose their personal politics on their decisions which is why they are often evasive when answering political questions. Along with being non-partisan, judges also carry many other qualifications, such as experience as a federal judge and clerking on the Supreme Court.
“In terms of just academic and professional credentials, [Jackson] has pretty much everything you would want. But that being said, she may not get a unanimous confirmation because it is political,” Rinehart said.
Senior Rachel Leach supports Jackson’s nomination.
“I think it is really good to have a public defender and a Black woman on the court; both are super important things,” Leach said. “Especially being a public defender, I think she has knowledge of how the criminal justice system works and what it is like being a defendant in America—especially one that can’t afford a lawyer—in a way that no one on the court does.”
Leach also said Jackson’s experience as a Black woman would be a valuable addition.
“It [would] bring a new perspective that has never been on the court before which is really good,” she said.