The many joys of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic confirmation
Photographs by Heather Fulbright and Austin Steele, CNN
Story by Brandon Tensley, CNN
April 7, 2022
It’s impossible to overstate how joyously layered this moment is.
On Thursday, Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the US Supreme Court, after a bipartisan group of senators voted earlier this week to advance her nomination.
Understandably, most discussions of this groundbreaking time have focused on how the judge’s confirmation has positioned her to become the first Black woman to join the high court in its 233 years of existence. But the diversity that Jackson reflects is far, far richer than many acknowledge.
“I see myself in you,” 16-year-old Samiya A. Williams said last month, reading a letter that was addressed to Jackson during a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court organized by Black women-led groups. The purpose of the gathering was to support the judge ahead of her confirmation hearings.
“I appreciate that you have a name that people must take their time to pronounce. I appreciate the tight coils in your locs that rhyme with mine, in my braids. I am fueled knowing that the journey it took to get to this place has many similarities to the one I am on right now as a 16-year-old,” Williams continued.
The day before the rally, Williams told my CNN colleague Jasmine Wright, “My dreams have just gotten so much bigger, it seems like overnight.”
Teenagers aren’t the only ones who’ve been viscerally moved by Jackson’s journey to the high court.
During the hearings, a number of Republican senators confronted the judge with dishonest scrutiny, and in particular mischaracterized her work from when she served as a federal public defender. Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey took a beat to dramatically alter the tone of the proceedings, to dispel their ugliness.
“You did not get there because of some left-wing agenda,” Booker said, after recalling how a Black woman “practically tackled” him to explain how touched she was to see Jackson sitting in the witness chair. “You didn’t get here because of some ‘dark money’ groups. You got here how every Black woman in America who’s gotten anywhere has done. By being, like Ginger Rogers said, ‘I did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards, in heels.’ And so I’m just sitting here saying nobody’s stealing my joy.”
What follows are reflections from a diverse group of Americans who also feel joy in this historic moment. These stories make clear that Jackson is a bottomless source of inspiration to so many, from a former classmate who’s been in awe of the judge since the two met in a seventh-grade civics class, to a hairdresser who understands that Jackson breaks the mold in sometimes overlooked ways.
Vice dean and professor of law at Rutgers Law School in Camden, New Jersey
“After witnessing the election of the first Black president and then the first Black and first female vice president, it is truly extraordinary as a Black woman to now bear witness to the first Black woman being confirmed to the US Supreme Court. These things seemed almost inconceivable in my youth, and now they are a reality. Judge Jackson’s confirmation to the Supreme Court silences all of the critics who said that no Black woman was worthy of this honor. It affirms to Black women and Black girls everywhere that we can go as far as our talents will take us. But perhaps most important, it signals to the American people how important it is for judges to reflect the rich diversity of our nation in all its dimensions.”
Samiya A. Williams
Student at the District of Columbia International School and a social justice activist
“I honestly cannot put into words how excited I am for this historic moment. It represents equity and justice that have not been provided to Black people, let alone to Black women, in America. Representation is vital for every young person, and the fact that we are finally getting the recognition we deserve is just amazing.”
Chicago-based hair stylist at Lillian Dion Salon
“The confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a historic mark that, for me, is a vision of true success. To excel on any level, trials must occur, and this very public one demonstrates the triumph that many of us lose sight of along the way. It is a moment in time that brings hope, joy and rejuvenation.”
Stephen F. Rosenthal
Appellate partner at the Miami-based litigation boutique firm Podhurst Orseck, P.A. He previously worked at the Department of Justice and clerked for two federal judges. He and Jackson are former classmates and have known each other for just shy of 40 years.
“I could not be more proud: Ketanji’s monumental achievement marks the culmination of a lifetime devotion to excellence, hard work and integrity. As Justice Jackson, KBJ will inspire future generations as a true embodiment of the modern American dream.”
Part-time non-traditional law student at the Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
“This moment is important because you cannot be what you do not see. It is a visual representation not only for other Black women and girls but for the world to continue to see Black women ascend to heights where we have traditionally been omitted. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson represents the promises of this country to its citizens, as well as the promise of my parents that I can be whatever it is I choose to be.”
Senior counsel at the New York law firm of Washton & Gitto, specializing in financial products. She met Jackson in college, during their first week at Harvard University, where they were roommates for three years. They then went to Harvard Law School together.
“Judge Jackson’s confirmation to the US Supreme Court is an amazing moment in history. To the Black community, she represents what can be achieved through hard work and perseverance. I have received so many notes from parents telling me how their children have been inspired by seeing someone who looks like them succeed at the highest levels. To me, this is a surreal moment. We all knew that this was Ketanji’s destiny. She was born for this. She has spent her life preparing for this very moment, and she is ready!”
Sabriya I. Williams (seen at right with her daughter, Samiya)
Co-founder of the racial equality initiative She Will Rise. She has more than 20 years of experience working to close various disparity gaps for people of color.
“The nomination and ultimate confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson brings us one step closer to having all of the spaces represent the America that we live in. Today we are celebrating the first knowing that she will not be the last.”
Alice A. Wang
Washington, DC-based lawyer who formerly served as a law clerk to Jackson
“Judge Jackson inspired and energized me every day that I worked alongside her as her law clerk. She continues to be my role model — not only as a minority woman in the law but also (as) a person who gives each day her fullest with kindness and perseverance. As a justice, she will continue to inspire new generations of young lawyers, and I’m immensely proud of this great moment for our country.”