Judge Jackson’s Confirmation: Transformative and Limited?


Jackson was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice; she is the first Black woman to sit on the bench. (Courtesy of Twitter)

On April 7, 2022, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson made history. In a 53 to 47 vote, Jackson was confirmed to join the bench following the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer this summer, making her the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Jackson’s nomination gives hope and inspiration to current and future generations of Black lawyers, and the Court will now more closely represent the United States population that it serves. While Jackson’s confirmation creates hope for the country’s future, there are limits to the transformative power she could bring to the bench.

Judge Jackson, who doesn’t classify herself under a judicial philosophy, works under a methodology for deciding cases; proceeding from a position of neutrality, interpreting and applying the law to the facts of the case. Known for having a reputation as a “consensus builder,” Jackson could help remedy some of the increasingly stark majorities of the Supreme Court regarding decisions. 

Jackson also has extensive experience throughout her career and education. An alumnus of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, Jackson has worked as a public defender and clerked for three federal judges, including Breyer, whom she will be replacing. Her confirmation makes her the first public defender to be a part of the Supreme Court, so her experience is uniquely different from the others on the bench.

Jackson has also served as vice-chair on the U.S Sentencing Commission, a bipartisan agency to help promote transparency and limit disparity in sentencing. Along with experience in several private law firms, Jackson has one of the most well-rounded law experiences, making her a valuable asset to add more perspective to the Court. 

During her confirmation, Jackson was asked to talk about some of the “hot-button” issues facing the United States, a standard practice in many modern Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Jackson was asked about the Second Amendment, to which she responded, “the Supreme Court has established that the individual right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right.” Jackson was also asked about her faith and ideas on when life begins; Jackson responded that she was a non-denominational Protestant Christian and that in regards to abortion and life, “I don’t know … I have religious view that I set aside when ruling on cases.” Judge Jackson doesn’t take a particular stance on any of these issues, which makes sense; a Supreme Court justice is meant to be impartial and only look at the facts of the case. 

Even with all of the experience Judge Jackson brings, the dynamic of the Supreme Court itself might hinder her ability to make a difference in the cases coming before the Court in upcoming sessions.

The Supreme Court has had a strong conservative majority since the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020. With former President Donald Trump being able to nominate and confirm three conservative judges to the Supreme Court, there is very little chance that one justice could drastically alter the current dynamic of the Court. 

Even though Justice Breyer is being replaced with a liberal-leaning judge, the Court will remain on a conservative trajectory with three liberal-leaning justices and six conservative-leaning justices. In all likelihood, Judge Jackson could follow her predecessor as a primary dissenter in many of the significant cases coming before the Court in the next session. 

In the event another seat was to open up on the bench of the Supreme Court during Biden’s term, the upcoming midterm elections this fall place doubt on if there will be a majority to confirm another left-leaning justice to the Supreme Court. Judge Jackson’s nomination was already pressured to be done before the midterm elections due to the fear of losing the slim Democrat majority in the Senate. 

Yet there is a chance that Judge Jackson could be the start of a transformation of the Supreme Court. Jackson is 51 years old, making her the second-youngest justice on the Supreme Court (Amy Coney Barret is 50). Her confirmation means that she will likely spend many years as a justice, surpassing some of the older members of the Court (Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito). Even so, it is unknown when Thomas or Alito may leave the Court and under what leadership. 

In her confirmation, Judge Jackson said, “It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, but we’ve made it. We’ve made it — all of us.” Whether or not Jackson has a transformative effect on the Court, she still has a transformative impact of what a Supreme Court Justice is and what it should be. Her nomination and confirmation create inspiration for future generations of Black women, a significant accomplishment within itself. 

Samantha Scott, FCRH ’24, is an international political economy major from Columbus, Ohio.