Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first black woman at the gates of the United States Supreme Court

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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been hearing since Monday by senators, who must confirm her appointment as judge of the Supreme Court of the United States. She would become the first black woman to hold such a position and enable President Joe Biden to fulfill one of his campaign promises.

American Republicans have tried to portray her as a “defender” of terrorists, who would be lenient with pedophiles. On the fourth day of his hearing by senators, Thursday, March 24, Ketanji Brown Jackson did not seem shaken by these accusations. The 51-year-old justice knows that despite the attacks, she is on her way to making American history by becoming the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

Ketanji Brown Jackson only needs a simple majority to be confirmed. She knows she can count on the support of the 50 Democratic senators and, if all 50 Republicans were to be hostile to her, Vice President Kamala Harris would have the last word… most likely in her favour.

The Supreme Court, a white and masculine stronghold

By choosing her to replace Judge Stephen Breyer, who is retiring, Joe Biden also hoped that Republicans would support her. After all, just a year ago, Ketanji Brown Jackson had been confirmed by this same Senate to become a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia with the support of three Republican senators.

But a Supreme Court nomination is a whole different story. “All the hearings for several years have become political rat races [entre démocrates et républicains]”, recalls the American public radio NPR. The Democrats had tried everything, without success, to block the nomination in 2018 of Brett Kavanaugh, suspected of sexual assault, then of Amy Coney Barrett in 2020, accused of being a religious fundamentalist. Previously, at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2016, the Republicans had managed to prevent Merrick Garland from entering the Supreme Court, simply to prevent the former Democratic president from tilting the balance of power within the America’s highest court in favor of the progressive camp.

With Ketanji Brown Jackson, it is not a question of moving political lines at Court. Joe Biden’s candidate would take the place of another Democrat, which would not change the fact that the Supreme Court is currently very marked on the right, with six conservative judges out of nine.

The stake with Ketanji Brown Jackson is both highly symbolic while being politically very important for Joe Biden. Indeed, the latter had made the appointment of a black woman to the Supreme Court one of his campaign promises in June 2020. This appointment would also fit very well into a more general strategy adopted by the president since his arrival at the White House: “Of the nearly 50 federal magistrates appointed, three-quarters were women and two-thirds people of color” , points out the Wall Street Journal.

It would also be a historic event for the Supreme Court, which remains one of the most “wasp” institutions (“white Anglo-Saxon Protestant”, that is to say in the image of the white Protestant pioneer who embodies the dominant class since the founding of the United States) from all over the country. In nearly 200 years of existence, the Supreme Court has hosted 120 justices, of whom 115 were men and 117 were white.

The first African-American judge – Thurgood Marshall – served from 1967 until 1991, when he was replaced by Clarence Thomas, another judge of color, who proved to be very conservative.

Ketanji Brown Jackson is well aware of the historical significance of her candidacy. During his speech to senators on Mondayshe assured to stand before them like so many other women “before me, including Constance Baker Motley, the first black woman to have been a federal judge and who was born the same day as me [mais 49 ans plus tôt]”.

An unprecedented past as a defense lawyer

Ketanji Brown Jackson is not just a symbol, however. This lawyer, married to a surgeon and mother of two children, graduated from the prestigious Harvard Law School with honors, worked as an assistant for Stephen Breyer, the Supreme Court justice she is to replace, and sat until ‘now at the District of Columbia’s Federal Court of Appeals, “which is considered the second most prestigious court in the nation after the Supreme Court because of the importance of the cases heard there”, recalls the Scotusblog sitedevoted to Supreme Court news – “Scotus” meaning “Supreme Court of the United States”.

Such are in any case its letters of legal nobility. But Ketanji Brown Jackson has also taken professional paths that none of his likely future Supreme Court colleagues have followed. She served for two years as a court-appointed lawyer and was also a sentence enforcement judge. “Most lawyers considering a career in the highest levels of the judiciary prefer to go through the prosecutor’s office because they know that politicians tend to support those on the side of law enforcement rather than those on the side of law enforcement. defense lawyers, who often find themselves pleading the case of criminals”, explains the American news site Vox. And “she was not afraid to help clients that others avoided at all costs”, notes the New York Times.

For many commentators, it is this particular career choice rather than his skin color that makes Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination so interesting. “She will have more experience of the reality of the application of criminal sentences than all the other justices of the Supreme Court combined”, summarizes the Los Angeles Times.

It is these few years spent defending criminals or deciding on the sanction to apply that the Republicans peeled to try to destabilize Ketanji Brown Jackson during the hearings this week. He was thus accused of having defended a Guantanamo detainee sixteen years ago. Ketanji Brown Jackson was accused of siding with the US as ‘enemy combatants’, to which she replied that the case had been assigned to her and anyone had the right to the best defense possible .

Several Republican senators then suggested that she had a soft spot for pedophiles because she had “often imposed lesser sentences” than the maximum provided by law for individuals possessing child pornography images. But several media, including conservatives, noted that an overwhelming majority of American judges did the same. “It’s worthy of QAnon [le groupe conspirationniste pro-Trump qui est persuadé qu’une secte sataniste et pédophile dirige les États-Unis]”, got carried away on Twitter Andrew Batesa White House spokesman.

But what does it matter to the Republicans, underlines NPR radio. They know they can’t stop the appointment of the first black woman to the Supreme Court. But if they can get the message across that Democrats backed a judge “who would be tough on criminals,” that’s the bottom line. After all, the midterm elections are only a few months away.

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Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first black woman at the gates of the United States Supreme Court