On Thursday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to be elevated to the nation’s highest court.
In the face of virulent opposition from conservative Republicans, Jackson was confirmed by a vote of 53-47, with only three Republicans — Senators Mitt Romney (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — voting to approve her nomination to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who will retire at the end of the court’s session this summer.
Jackson is the first person to be nominated to the high court by President Joe Biden, who had promised to nominate a Black woman while campaigning for president back in 2020. Supporters praised Jackson’s nomination, noting she would bring diversity and a different perspective to the court, which has often been criticized for its lack of racial and ideological diversity.
Throughout Jackson’s confirmation hearings, Republicans attempted to portray the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judge as a liberal extremist who was “soft” on crime — a charge that Jackson’s supporters said was inaccurate and a distortion of her record. Republicans frequently whined about the treatment that Donald Trump’s three Supreme Court nominees — especially Brett Kavanaugh — had received during their confirmation hearings, or raised cultural hot-button issues, such as “critical race theory,” transgender rights and same-sex marriage in failed attempts to cast Jackson as holding out-of-the-mainstream views.
For instance, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) peppered Jackson with questions about same-sex marriage and the proper role of the judiciary as he sought to cast the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision as a form of judicial activism that infringes upon the religious beliefs of those opposed to homosexuality.
In another exchange, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked Jackson to define the term “woman” with the intent of portraying Jackson as an adherent of radical “gender ideology” and forcing her to take a stand on the contentious issue of transgender women competing on female-designated sports teams.
“The fact that you can’t give me a straight answer about something as fundamental as what a woman is underscores the dangers of the kind of progressive education that we are hearing about,” Blackburn said after Jackson deferred, saying she was not a biologist — although scientists themselves struggle at adopting a one-size-fits-all definition, due in part to the biological diversity among human beings, even among those assigned female at birth.
LGBTQ advocates praised Jackson’s steady and calm demeanor during her confirmation hearings, refusing to take the bait offered by Republican senators in an attempt to appeal to conservative voters during an election year. They also praised her qualifications and temperament as a fair-minded jurist on Thursday following the final confirmation vote.
“Today, a brilliant, empathetic, imminently qualified woman of integrity was confirmed to a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States. After 115 prior justices have been appointed, a Black woman finally has the opportunity to serve — and it’s about time,” Joni Madison, the interim president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.
HRC previously issued a report detailing Jackson’s record as a judge and her past statements and positions on a range of civil rights and constitutional issues, and how those might inform her work as a justice. While Jackson has largely not dealt with LGBTQ rights cases, she has, in public remarks, highlighted the historical connections between the LGBTQ rights and civil rights movements and framed the Obergefell decision on marriage equality as based on precedent established by previous high court decisions regarding privacy and the right of interracial couples to marry.
“This moment is powerful, meaningful, and long overdue. There is no question that soon-to-be Justice Jackson will be a fierce defender, champion and ally to marginalized communities, including the LGBTQ+ community, who are at-risk of having their rights watered down or stripped from them by the Court’s conservative majority,” Madison said. “We have a long road ahead of us, and a lot of work to do, but today’s victory reminds us all why the fight is worth it.”
Other LGBTQ advocates said Jackson will take over from Breyer, and add some more youth to the bench, at a critical time for the LGBTQ community, whose rights are being stripped away by state legislation or challenged in various court cases where opponents of homosexuality and same-sex marriage wish to carve out religious exemptions to nondiscrimination laws. It is all but certain that at least one, if not more, LGBTQ rights cases will make their way before the high court over the next few years.
“LGBTQ rights are under attack all across this country, and today’s confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court is a critical step to ensure our hard-won progress is not reversed by those using the courts to fight outdated culture wars,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, said in a statement. “Judge Jackson’s experience and judicial temperament will make her one of the most qualified justices ever to serve on the Court. GLAAD congratulates Judge Jackson and our entire nation on this historic and long overdue representation.”
“We are thrilled to join in the celebration today of the historic and bipartisan confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. As a leading civil rights organization that works through the courts to seek equity and justice for LGBTQ people, we are acutely aware of how important it is to have a judiciary that reflects the diversity of this country,” Imani Rupert-Gordon, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a statement.
“Judge Jackson is immensely qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court and brings important professional and experiential diversity to the position, which will benefit us all,” added Rupert-Gordon. “Her perspective will enrich the Court’s deliberations and her presence will increase public confidence in the institution.”
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