By Rodney Slater
Today, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson becomes the 116th Justice of the United States Supreme Court, due in no small measure to her splendid appearance during her historic confirmation hearings. In addition to her thorough understanding of the law and the American principles and ideals on which it stands, she has personified poise, perspicacity, and pertinacity.
President Joseph Robinette Biden announced his nomination of Judge Brown Jackson on February 25, with Vice President Kamala Devi Harris at his side. With his announcement, Mr. Biden became the first U.S. President in American history to nominate a Black woman to the highest judicial tribunal in the land, the United States Supreme Court, in the near 233 year history of the court.
Fifty-five years ago, President Lyndon Baines Johnson nominated Judge Thurgood Marshall as the first Black to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ironically, both Marshall and Brown Jackson served as public defenders before assuming the bench and interestingly, both were castigated for doing so, even though the constitutional right to representation by competent counsel was recognized by the Supreme Court itself, and is a hallmark of American jurisprudence. Some have even argued that all too many of the questions put to both Marshall and Brown Jackson were race-based.
My purpose is not to argue or examine this contention, but to note that, notwithstanding, both Marshall and Brown Jackson responded with poise, perspicacity, and pertinacity, and both spoke to the power, the majesty, and the enduring capacity of our legal system to help and guide America in becoming a more perfect union.
History is human. Events are shaped by humans. History is bent by indomitable spirits – the valiant and principled citizens and soldiers who fight for freedom and for that which is right and just; the delegation of patriots, activists, and advocates who commit their honor and lives to a noble cause; the bondsman who escapes to freedom and returns to free others; and We the People who daily enjoy the blessings of liberty and equally embrace the obligations of Democracy. Robert Francis Kennedy once noted, "Few will have a greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of a generation."
While the inquiry by some of Judge Marshall and Judge Brown Jackson seem so familiar and our current day divisions and life's vicissitudes so similar to those of days past, times have changed. Our nation reflects it and we, in our hearts, know it.
As a son of the South, years ago, I took special note that Judge Marshall received only two aye votes from Senators of the South – James William Fulbright of Arkansas and James Woogood of Virginia. I have every confidence that Judge Brown Jackson will do better, in no small measure because of her own praiseworthy credentials, quality service, and exemplary appearance during the taxing, testy, and sometimes trying Senate Confirmation Hearings, as well as because of the service and legacy of Justice Marshall and the enduring impact he had the bench.
Judge Brown Jackson already has begun this important work even before her confirmation vote, before hearing her first oral argument, and before signing her first decision. The breadth and nature, tenor and tone of the hearings, and the character and quality of some of the inquiry, afforded Judge Brown Jackson the welcomed opportunity to display the humanity, cool judgment, discernment, mercy, and persistence all Americans want reflected on the highest court in the land. To question is one thing; to answer and comport oneself appropriately, is another. Even before she will be called Justice, she has displayed her commitment to equal justice under the law.
We can all say of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, we also know the eternal value of her watchword, PERSEVERE!
Rodney Slater served as the United States Secretary of Transportation from 1997 to 2001 and is a Senior Partner at Squire Patton Boggs.