Americans who followed the four-day confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson last week were treated to a rare display of brilliance, principle and unflappability that demonstrate her fitness, to say the very least, to sit on the nation’s high court. The next step should be obvious and simple. Jackson should be confirmed without delay.
The nominee was forbearing and masterful in responding to the series of non sequiturs hurled at her during long days of questioning by a handful of strutting, preening Republican senators more concerned with the coming midterm elections and their social media mentions than with determining whether Jackson has the integrity and the intellect needed in a Supreme Court justice. Her testimony showed that she does, and her straightforward responses to questions about irrelevant political and policy matters showed the remarkable measure of both knowledge and patience that enabled her to be such a capable trial judge.
No current justice besides Sonia Sotomayor has served as a trial judge, leaving the court nearly bereft of an essential perspective on the judicial system’s keystone element.
In many other ways, Jackson’s experience is much like the justices she will be joining. She earned her law degree from Harvard, as did four of the current justices (four others got theirs from Yale). She clerked for a prior Supreme Court justice, as did five of the sitting justices. She worked for elite law firms and served as an appellate court judge.
But instead of spending a portion of her legal career in partisan jobs in the political branches of government, such as White House or legislative counsel or in various assistant attorney general positions, as most of the other justices did, Jackson presided over a courtroom. She handed down sentences, worked as a public defender, served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission and focused on multiple facets of the actual application of justice on real parties. That experience made her an expert on the legal system and a tolerant (to a point) witness on the Senate stand. It allowed her to demonstrate her judicial demeanor to the public watching the hearing.
The only break in her composure, however slight, came not under the ridiculous questioning by Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, about whether he could be a temporary Asian or his colleagues’ various off-subject manifestos on defunding police, critical race theory and terrorism. It was the exuberant celebration by Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey, who doubled down on the other attributes that make Jackson different from the justices who came before her, that visibly moved her.
“You got here,” Booker told Jackson, “how any Black woman in America who’s gotten anywhere has done. By being —.”
And then he stopped himself and resorted to a quip from the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards about dancer Ginger Rogers: She did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.
It was clear what Booker meant: Jackson got where she is by being twice as smart, twice as determined, twice as hard-working and twice as tolerant as any number of white men who served on the court during an era — the majority of the nation’s existence — when neither Black people nor women were permitted to dedicate their lives and intellect to the law. That’s the caliber of person the Senate is now being asked to confirm to the Supreme Court. So for the nation’s sake, let’s get on with it.