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UMN students, faculty react to Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation

Several law students express joy and pride about Judge Jackson being the first Black woman to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, and her accomplishments and qualifications.
Walter+F.+Mondale+Hall+on+Friday%2C+Sept.+10%2C+2021.
Image by Ethan Fine
Walter F. Mondale Hall on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021.

Several University of Minnesota law students said they felt inspired because of the recent confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman confirmed onto the Supreme Court.

Some of the biggest takeaways, according to several law students listening and watching Jackson’s confirmation hearings, include her credentials, humility and worthiness for the position.

“I do so now while bringing the gifts my ancestors gave. I am the dream and the hope of the slave,” Jackson said during her confirmation speech, quoting “And Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.

Judge Jackson is a former federal judge and public defender who graduated from Harvard University and was nominated by President Joe Biden to be on the Supreme Court last February. On April 7, Jackson was confirmed by the senate in a 53-47 vote, making her the first Black female Supreme Court Justice in the United States.

“In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States,” Jackson said in her speech after her confirmation.

Samia Osman, a Black second-year law student and vice president of the Black Law Student Association (BLSA), said she was very proud when she heard about Jackson’s confirmation.

Osman said she had “tears in her eyes” when Jackson quoted Maya Angelou in her speech.

“That is the American dream,” Osman said. “The idea that we can go from the absolute worst in us, slavery and the remnants of it, to the absolute best in us.”

Osman said she thinks every Black woman in law school right now is feeling more inspired.

“Her confirmation tells us in no uncertain words that those who make the laws will consider our experiences and our truths,” Osman said. “We might not always win, and we might not always be the focus, but we are at least in the room.”

Timothy Johnson, a professor of political science and law, said he thought Justice Jackson was a great choice for the court. Johnson has spent almost a quarter of a century teaching and researching the Supreme Court.

Johnson said that he thought Justice Jackson was a good choice due to her credentials. He added that it is historically important because she will be the first Black female justice, she is the first justice with defense attorney experience since Justice Thurgood Marshall was confirmed in 1967, and the first time the court will have four women at once.

“Her worldview and legal view is going to bring something different that the court has not ever had yet,” Johnson said.

Johnson added the Supreme Court dynamics will not change by much since Jackson is a left-leaning moderate replacing a left-leaning moderate justice. He adds that Jackson will bring a different viewpoint in criminal law because of her background as a defense attorney.

Some of the questions Jackson was asked during her confirmation hearings were out-of-the-ordinary, Johnson said. For example, Johnson pointed out the questions about critical race theory and her religious views.

“Judges don’t deal with critical race theory,” Johnson said. “The question Sen. Graham asked her about, on a scale of 1-10, how religious are you? Those were probably the most unusual things she had to deal with.”

In the past hearings, judges have been asked how their participation in religious organization would affect their views on issues such as abortion laws, but not about how religious they are, Johnson said.

Jessica Bontemps, a Black third-year law student, BLSA member and former co-president, expressed her joy about “history being made.”

“Someone who was worthy was getting that position,” Bontemps said. “It also felt like a historical moment.”

Bontemps and Osman said that Jackson held herself well during the confirmation hearings despite all the questioning about past decisions she has made as a judge. They both said it made them consider how they might be questioned as a judge someday and how their decisions could be viewed.

Bontemps added that what stood out to her during Jackson’s speech is how humble she appeared. She said she noticed how while Jackson was very deserving of the seat, she still took the time to thank everyone who had helped her along the way.

Bontemps said she felt inspired by Jackson’s confirmation and it shows that with hard work and dedication, anyone could be a Supreme Court justice.

“Not just Black boys and girls, because she is a woman as well. Having a female be nominated can be something that is inspirational to all races and ages,” Bontemps said.

Bontemps said that Jackson’s confirmation is a good step in getting more representation on the Supreme Court. America is a country filled with many different types of people and we are progressing towards a bench that is more reflective of that, Bontemps said.

Bontemps and Osman noted that Jackson’s confirmation is encouraging to Black female law students because it shows how far they can go if they put their minds to it.

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