On April 7, the Senate voted 53-47 to confirm President Joseph Biden’s nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. All Democrat senators and three Republican senators voted to confirm, making history by sending the first Black woman to the bench of the highest court in the land.
Yet, while this confirmation presents itself as a landmark moment in the fight for racial and gender justice, the confirmation hearing and the mainly partisan vote demonstrates that there is a long way to go before America reaches racial and gender equality.
From Day One of the confirmation hearing, the senate questioning quickly assumed sexist and racist undertones disguised in legal formality and dramatized partisanship, a stark contrast to the confirmation hearings of the past five Supreme Court nominees.
Jackson’s character and poise were challenged almost throughout all of the confirmation hearing by GOP senators, who layered their questions with rhetoric specifically designed to undermine her character and frustrate her into retaliation.
GOP Sens. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marsha Blackburn and Tom Cotton all largely ignored Jackson’s judicial and constitutional views and instead focused attention on a commission that Jackson was a member of, related to sex offenders and mandatory-minimum sentencing.
“I believe you care for children, obviously your children and other children,” Cruz said. “But I also see a record of activism and advocacy as it concerns sexual predators that stems back decades, and that is concerning.”
Cruz would continue his aggressive questioning of Jackson, bringing up Ibram Kendi’s book “Antiracist Baby,” which is supposedly taught at Georgetown Day school where Jackson is a member of the school board. In a tense exchange, Cruz asked Jackson if she believed that babies were born racist.
“There are portions of this book that I find to be really quite remarkable,” Cruz said. “One portion of the book says that babies are taught to be racist or anti-racist.”
These questions by Cruz and other GOP senators are rooted in racial and gendered stereotypes and go beyond the accusations that Jackson cannot rule impartially or is an instrument of the far left. Embedded in these questions, regardless of her answer, is the absurd claim that Jackson is not femine or nurturing enough.
While confirmation hearings are hotspots for political rhetoric, these claims are not a reflection of Jackson’s character or the existing partisanship in government. They are an example of how racial and gender hierarchies are woven into the social fabric of the U.S.
These questions would have been considered absurd when demanded of white male nominees because these expectations or qualifications are not demanded of white men. Yet, in this situation, these questions were legitimized because they spoke to a false stereotype that Black women are not good mothers.
It is this double standard coupled with a lack of outrage that has made this confirmation hearing so problematic and concerning. Jackson’s confirmation should have been an easy appointment but was instead complicated by specific race and gender attitudes that are ingrained into our government system.
Why did it take over 200 years for the senate to confirm a Black woman to the Court? Why was it so difficult now in 2022? These are the questions we must demand to be answered before we can praise and honor the government for bringing further representation and diversity to the Court.
The process to confirm Jackson, while a step towards further diversity, demonstrates that the government has not yet grappled enough with its own implicit racism. Jackson’s confirmation is not a token that can absolve anyone from this racism.
On the contrary, this confirmation process proves how entrenched racist behavior is in the systems of government and society. We have been brainwashed into accepting racist questioning as simply political rhetoric and partisanship as a reasonable excuse for preventing change.
Real political and societal change cannot only be measured on the individual level but by systemic efforts and overhauls. It is the sum of grassroots movements, the product of creative imaginations and the difference made when government policy and action meets cultural revolutions.
I do not want to diminish the great accomplishment of Jackson’s confirmation to the Court. I am optimistic that her confirmation will inspire other Black women to pursue judicial careers, and I believe that her voice on the Court will lead to equitable rulings.
However, it will take much more diversity in our Courts, equity in our government and inclusivity in our dialogues before this change can be achieved. Complacency because of this confirmation will prevent systemic change. We must, instead, use this confirmation process as a case study to look at how racism persists in our government.