Members of the Berkeley community expressed overwhelming relief in response to the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday.
As the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, many noted that this confirmation is historic and inches the court in a direction that is “more representative of the people it serves,” according to campus law professor Tejas Narechania in an email. Additionally, Brown Jackson has the potential to bring fresh perspectives to the conservative-leaning court with her background as a public defender.
“First and foremost, (Brown Jackson) met the judicial requirements to join the Supreme Court, hands down,” said campus law adjunct professor Eric Stover. “We are lucky to live in a diverse country, and our institutions should reflect that.”
Campus law professor Elisabeth Semel added Brown Jackson’s confirmation is a “very sober reminder” that in 2022, less than 5% of attorneys are Black. She noted there have only been 70 Black women who have served as a federal judge. These statistics demonstrate the United States has a long road ahead in dismantling structural racism, according to Semel.
However, during the confirmation process, several U.S. senators took issue with Brown Jackson’s background as a federal public defender, alleging concerns about her qualifications.
“Her service as a public defender was a stalking horse for racial discrimination,” Semel alleged in an email. “As a former public defender I could talk at length about the imperative of ensuring that lawyers who have upheld the Constitution by defending poor people accused of crime have a place on the bench.”
Several others echoed this sentiment. Berkeley Vice Mayor Kate Harrison, who labeled herself a “close court watcher,” said the Republicans alleging Brown Jackson was “soft” on crime and child pornographers during the hearings was the “lowest moment” she has ever seen during any Supreme Court justice confirmation hearings.
Although the Supreme Court still leans conservative, Harrison said she believes Brown Jackson will make an impact on the court’s ideology over time as she is only 51 years old, and justices are appointed for life.
“It’s a move in the right direction, and every advancement makes a difference,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn in an email. “Diversity of background, professional experience and legal thought is a strength on our highest court and throughout our judicial system.”
Furthermore, campus law professor Jonathan Simon noted that finally having a public defender on the Supreme Court will fill a gap in the court’s lack of experience with criminal law, which he says has been a problem when the court dealt with the death penalty.
Simon added that criminal law cases tend not to be polarized along partisan lines, so she may be able to persuade other justices.
“She will provide a lot of intellectual muster,” Harrison said. “I see a glimmer of hope that we could be turning the corner.”