Sophie Lovering is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) and minoring in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies.
On Thursday, March 24, the Senate concluded four days of hearings regarding Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination for the Supreme Court of the United States . Nominated by President Biden, Jackson shares many characteristics of the justices that have come before her: attended an Ivy league law school, served as Supreme Court clerk, and worked as a federal appeals judge . Despite her similarities to past justices, should Jackson fill the present Supreme Court vacancy, she would make history as the first public defender and the first Black woman to serve .
According to Alicia Bannon, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Judiciary Program, “What judges see is often shaped by the experiences that they had” . Some of Jackson’s professional experience extends beyond the United States, as she worked defending detainees in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba at the federal public defender’s office . Within the United States, she has spent significant time as a criminal defense attorney working with indigent clients and would be the first justice with this experience since Justice Thurgood Marshall . Jackson’s experiences lend her a unique perspective on the flaws and discrepancies within the criminal justice system, which other justices limited to prosecutorial work likely do not share .
It is not just Jackson’s work prior to her nomination that makes her path unique. Over the past four days, the nominee has been forced to answer questions that have no relevance to her qualifications as a justice, such as inquiries about “racist babies” in children’s books and her definition of a woman . Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes that the sometimes irrelevant and often inflammatory questions directed at Jackson are due to “Republican payback” for what party leaders considered unnecessary smearing of prior Republican nominee Brett Kavanaugh .
Some argue that Jackson’s appointment to the Supreme Court could help improve the judiciary. Vincent Southerland, who works as an assistant professor of clinical law at New York University School of Law, believes that addressing discrimination in society mandates respresentative governmental bodies . As a Black woman, Jackson has experienced the intersectional barriers commonly perpetuated by discrimination . Shaping the Supreme Court is not all that Jackson’s appointment would do; descriptive representation is valued by oppressed minority groups, thus her appointment as the first Black female justice would inspire and motivate Americans of similar backgrounds .
We must wait and see how the Senate hearings shape Jackson’s appointment and whether she will make history as the first Black female justice of the Supreme Court. Even before this decision is made, it is evident that Jackson’s appointment could have important implications for the future of justice and the law.
 Blanco, Adrian and Shelly Tan. “How Ketanji Brown Jackson’s path to the Supreme Court differs from the current justices.” Washington Post. March 20, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/interactive/2022/ketanji-brown-jackson-school-career/.
 Serino, Kenichi. “How having a former public defender on the Supreme Court could be ‘revolutionary.’” PBS. March 21, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/few-public-defenders-become-federal-judges-ketanji-brown-jackson-would-be-the-supreme-courts-first.
 Bruni, Frank. “Where, in This Senate Circus, Is Ketanji Brown Jackson?” New York Times. March 24, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/24/opinion/ketanji-brown-jackson-supreme-court.html.
 Arnesen, Sveinung and Yvette Peters. “The Legitimacy of Representation: How Descriptive, Formal, and Responsiveness Representation Affect the Acceptability of Political Decisions.” SAGE Journals. August 8, 2017. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0010414017720702.
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