On April 7, 2022, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed into the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 53-47 vote, this historic victory makes her the first Black woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. She was met with support from all 50 Senate Democrats and three Republican Senators, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney.
While it may take a few months before Judge Jackson officially replaces the retiring Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, her confirmation serves as an immediate milestone in representation for Black women in the United States.
Judge Jackson is highly qualified, with an impressive background both professionally and educationally. She served as a United States District Judge from 2013 until 2021 and served on the United States Sentencing Commission for four years as Vice Chair and Commissioner. She received her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1996 and her A.B. in Government from Harvard-Radcliffe College in 1992.
This vote finalizes a promise made by President Joe Biden during his 2020 campaign to elect a Black woman as a Supreme Court justice. “I’m looking forward to making sure there’s a Black woman on the Supreme Court, to make sure we in fact get every representation,” Biden assured voters in 2020, and he is right—representation is imperative.
Since its first assembly in 1790, the U.S. Supreme Court has had 115 judges—108 of which have been white men. There have been only five female justices, two Black male justices and one woman of color. Current Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the only Hispanic justice, Justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas are the only Black male justices and there has never been an Asian-American justice in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“For the first 180 years, the Court membership consisted exclusively of white males, almost all Protestant and of Northern/Western European descent,” Teaching Tolerance reported.
While the U.S claims to be founded on ideals of equality and equal representation, the highest judicial branch has been run predominantly by white men since its establishment. The U.S. is incredibly diverse, and these numbers fail to represent the different demographics in the country.
According to the 2020 census, 13.4% of the U.S. is Black or African American, 5.9% is Asian alone, 1.3% is American Indian and Alaska Native alone, 2.8% is Two or More Races and 19.5% is Hispanic or Latino. Until recently, the High Court did not reflect this diversity, and thus the legal system of this country has never truly been representative or equal.
While this victory is monumental for achieving equal representation on a national level, the State Supreme Courts unfortunately fall far behind in terms of diversity.
As of April 2021: “There are no Black justices in 28 states. There are no Latino justices in 40 states. There are no Asian American justices in 44 states. There are no Native American justices in 47 states. Across all state high courts, just 17 percent of justices are Black, Latino, Asian American or Native American. By contrast, people of color make up almost 40 percent of the U.S. population,” Janna Adelstein and Alicia Bannon for the Brennan Center for Justice reported.
While Justice Jackson’s confirmation still deserves great celebration, there is still significant progress to be made. Until every level of the United States’ legal system reflects the people of this country, the fight for justice is not over.