By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN — Despite the sensationalism and antagonism displayed by Senate Republicans during the confirmation hearings of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the latter is the first Black female Supreme Court Justice, being confirmed to the nation’s highest court last Thursday.
Noreen Farrell, civil rights attorney and Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates, offered her insights on this historic nomination.
“While loud and dramatic, the Senate Republican outbursts at the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Jackson did little to undermine the extraordinary lifetime of experience that qualifies her for the role,” Farrell said. “She spent almost nine years as a federal district and appeals court judge — more than Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Barrett, who each served less than three years before being nominated. She has served as a district judge, a public defender, and a clerk for the Supreme Court. No other justice can claim all three of those qualifications.”
Given Jackson’s extraordinary qualifications for the Court, Farrell said the Senate Republicans’ line of questioning was “less about determining her ability to serve as it was bad faith political theater,” with the questions being “irrelevant, exhausting, and disturbing at times.”
“The point of Senate Republican badgering, which included reference to issues on which Judge Jackson has not taken a position, was to pander to a far-right political base uneasy with the leadership of Black women,” Farrell said. “With Senate Republican questions about critical race theory, and how Judge Jackson might define a ‘woman,’ racism, sexism, transphobia was on full display. There is no way Senator [Ted] Cruz would have asked a white male nominee whether babies were racist.”
“As a civil rights lawyer, I cheered when Judge Jackson clarified a question that seemed to imply it was acceptable to make individual rights subject to religious or community sentiment,” she added. “Her willingness to defend the civil rights made clear in our Constitution and by judicial precedent is important to marginalized communities. These are important rights and concepts for reproductive healthcare and education, labor rights, disability rights, and the rights of LGBTQI+ people.”
“Black people have long been disproportionately punished in our judicial system. That is why the credibility of our court depends on having Black judges to consider how it must change to eradicate discrimination and unfairness,” Farrell asserted.
Some Senate Republicans, such as Senator Josh Hawley, insinuated during interrogations that Jackson was soft on child pornography defendants, a dangerous dog-whistle to QAnon adherents who have claimed the Democratic Party is highly involved in child trafficking.
That rumor took a dangerous turn in the form of “PizzaGate” years ago and is now echoed by far-right politicians such as Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. Just last week, Greene released a video in which she explicitly calls Democrats pedophiles.
“The political pandering to QAnon voters was transparent at the nomination hearings. Child pornography, softness on crime, critical race theory – these are issues that activate that base but have nothing to do with Judge Jackson’s positions or her full professional record,” Farrell remarked.
“As Vice Chair of the Sentencing Commission, Judge Jackson argued for sensible federal sentencing reforms … But nothing in her record suggests that she shies away from incarcerating defendants when warranted by the circumstances,” she said.
Another point hammered by Republican questioners was to relate now-Justice Jackson’s experience of the confirmation process to that of Justice Kavanaugh, who was facing serious allegations of sexual assault and rape at the time.
“Senate Republican references to the Kavanaugh proceedings were a transparent effort to justify their mean-spirited attacks against Judge Jackson. The effort backfired,” Farrell said. “The evidence before the Committee with respect to Judge Jackson is a judicial record of 500 cases, ABA qualification, and impeccable references. Her demeanor, record, experience, moral character, and ability to remain cool under pressure could not be more different … The Republican repeated references to the past demonstrated that they were more interested in revenge than in choosing the best justice to sit on our country’s highest court.”
Farrell added that the very Senators who so publicly challenged her ability to perform the duties of Supreme Court Justice had, in the past, lauded those same qualities in nominating her to prior judicial roles.
“For much of the American public, the hearings demonstrated the glass ceiling many Black women with impeccable qualifications face across professions,” she continued.
“In my organization’s nearly 50-year history, women attorneys with Equal Rights Advocates have argued before the Supreme Court several times on issues directly impacting women, and Black women in particular. Having a Black woman on the court, with the lived experiences unique to Black women in America, would have provided a critical perspective in those cases,” she noted. “Supreme Court threats to cases like Roe v. Wade confirm the danger of a federal judiciary that is two-thirds men and 80% white.”
“Representation matters … Black women have always led our nation’s progress toward equity and social justice, and it is high time for a Black woman to sit in a position of power that reflects that history of leadership,” Farrell said. “Black girls are watching. Judge Jackson is an extraordinary role model for them and for every person who has been told certain jobs or spaces are not for them. This is a historic moment to change dreams for the next generation.”
“If one word could summarize the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Judge Jackson, it is ‘persevere,’ a word she described as so meaningful to her,” Farrell remarked. “In these hearings, we saw the experience of extraordinarily qualified Black women across our nation who persevere in the face of race baiting, double standards, and persistent glass ceilings in every sphere. Judge Jackson did not just persevere, she rose to this historic moment to shine as a role model to every person in this country who is told, ‘No’ or ‘Not yet.’”