This is what it looks like to make history. By nominating DC Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first African American woman to sit on the Supreme Court, President Biden is breaking an important barrier without lowering standards one bit.

The historic nature of the pick became the headline that instantly caught the public’s attention.

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement Friday that Jackson’s nomination “promises an end to the erasure of Black women from our most sacred legal institutions.” Describing Jackson as “an eminently qualified public servant with distinguished experience as a federal judge,” Graves urged senators to “treat her with the respect and dignity she deserves.”

Putting a Black woman on the Supreme Court allows Biden to keep a promise that he made two years ago while campaigning for president. It also lets America keep an even bigger promise—a pledge that one’s race and gender need not limit one’s opportunities or scuttle one’s dreams. It is a powerful symbol that will tell young Black girls all across the country that there is nothing they can’t do and (almost) no place they can’t go.

That last barrier will break when a Black woman gets to be the one who picks Supreme Court nominees because she is sitting in the Oval Office.

Even after he narrowed the pool of prospective applicants to only Black women, Biden was lucky to have an embarrassment of riches in possible candidates. If the job had not gone to Jackson, the other two likely choices—California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger and U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs — were both very strong prospects.

Kruger is a graduate of Yale Law School, who hails from the most populous blue state in the country and had an important ally in fellow Californian, Vice President Kamala Harris.

And Childs, who presides in South Carolina, had the bipartisan backing of two powerful supporters from the Palmetto State—Democratic House Majority Whip James Clyburn and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They insisted that Childs—who went to the University of South Florida and the University of South Carolina School of Law—would bring a real world perspective to the job. Childs is also considered to be more in the ideological center than either Kruger or Jackson, a fact that stirred skepticism on the left but also could have served her well in getting approved by a 50-50 Senate.

But Biden wasn’t the only one who got lucky. America was also fortunate that Jackson eventually got the nod. Now this country gets to shatter a glass ceiling that has been thicker than most, while still acknowledging and rewarding excellence. Any way you slice it, the nominee’s resumé has the goods.

A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Jackson sits on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the most prestigious appeals court in the land. She is a former law clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer, who she would be replacing. With limitless career choices, she used her law degree to advance public service as an assistant federal public defender. She has twice been confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate. And, at only 51, Jackson will be on the Court for a good long while.

Because of all that gravy, Jackson isn’t a long shot. She is more of a sure bet and a safe choice. She appears to be easily confirmable, which is always the No. 1 qualification for any Supreme Court nominee.

Even so, upon learning that the nomination had gone to Jackson, Graham — who twice voted to confirm Jackson to the federal bench, first to the D.C. District Court in 2013 and then again to the D.C. Circuit Court in 2021—took to Twitter to soothe his wounded regional pride.

“If media reports are accurate, and Judge Jackson has been chosen as the Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Breyer, it means the radical Left has won President Biden over yet again,” Graham tweeted. “The attacks by the Left on Judge Childs from South Carolina apparently worked.”

He followed up with another tweet that took aim at elitism.

“I expect a respectful but interesting hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court continues to run unabated.”

Graham is correct that the highest court in the land should reflect a wider selection of law schools. Currently, only one justice—Amy Coney Barrett, a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School—went to a law school other than Harvard or Yale. And because Notre Dame is a private school, the number of justices who went to law school at a public university is zero.

Take it from a guy with two Harvard degrees, that’s absurd.

However, this is also a special case. In a country where a Black woman is always going to be more highly scrutinized than a white male, the first Black woman to have the honor of sitting on the Supreme Court will have to come in the Senate committee door ready to kick ass and take names.

CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams, a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General, asked the key question: “What does it take for a black woman to be taken seriously in America?”

Seizing up the choice on Wednesday morning even before Biden made the official announcement, Williams said this: “If I was going to describe for you a supremely qualified Supreme Court nominee, who had served for two years as a federal judge and gone to Harvard twice, I’d say: ‘Wow that’s quite impressive.’ Well, that’s John Roberts, the Chief Justice. Ketanji Brown Jackson has all of that, plus seven more years as a judge.

The way Williams sees it, the president needed to put forth a nominee who would represent the strongest possible defense against the coming storm of criticism from white male Republicans who think they—and the people they represent—are the real victims in America.

“This black woman nominee is going to face headwinds about her qualifications,” Williams noted. “And if what it takes to get a Black woman on the Supreme Court is (to pick) someone from the Ivy League bubble, then so be it.”

That’s spot on. Personally, I never feel comfortable with the idea that the first Black woman on the Supreme Court should also be the only justice who went to a public university. If it is all the same to the Gods of history, I would prefer that distinction to go to a white male.

We should have always known that this is where we’d arrive. The first Black woman on the Supreme Court was always going to need to be 10 feet tall and indestructible. Just like every other Black woman in every white-collar position you can think of—from Wall Street to Main Street—Biden’s nominee was going to have to be twice as good as the average white male just to get half the credit.

Don’t get me wrong. There is no magic crucifix that wards off prejudice and racism. Jackson is still going to be challenged on her qualifications by far less qualified white men—whether they perch at Fox News (looking at you, Tucker), conservative talk radio or the Senate Judiciary Committee. These folks can’t shake off their white male privilege. Just like we can’t fix stupid.

But with a nominee as indisputably qualified as Ketanji Brown Jackson, those attacks are going to come across to the rest of America for what they really are: totally ridiculous.





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