Knocking on the Halls of Justice

By Mana Mostatabi, Senior Director

In the U.S. Supreme Court’s 230-year history, only seven of the 115 justices who’ve served weren’t white men. President Joe Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer advances the long overdue milestone of having the first Black woman, and the second youngest justice, to sit on the Supreme Court. In seeking a candidate, President Biden looked for an individual “committed to equal justice under the law and who understands the profound impact that the Supreme Court’s decisions have on the lives of Americans.”

Like many women of color, Judge Jackson faced her own challenges in pursuing her career dreams. In high school, upon telling her guidance counselor that she hoped to attend Harvard, she was told not to “set her sights so high.” Still, she persisted, and went on to graduate from Harvard University and Harvard Law School, where she became the editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. From there, her career in law and public service began.

Judge Jackson has presided over a number of high profile cases. Most notably, she was one of three judges who rejected former President Donald Trump’s efforts to prevent the National Archives from turning over White House records to the House committee tasked with investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Judge Jackson also has extensive experience with federal sentencing policy. During her tenure as vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Judge Jackson was integral in helping to reduce sentences for most federal drug offenders. Recognizing that she lacked a “practical understanding of the actual workings of the federal criminal justice system,” she knew that to be effective in helping to set and reform sentencing policies, she needed to serve in the trenches. That’s why she joined the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Judge Jackson’s career is one of many factors that could advance and widen the range of perspectives on the Supreme Court. Along with her lived experience as a Black woman from the South and her career background, Judge Jackson’s confirmation has the potential to disrupt the status quo and influence the Court’s approach to interpreting and applying the law. Indeed, her work on sentencing policies would make her the only justice with significant experience representing low-income criminal defendants.

Judge Jackson’s career path is best described as one of intent and purpose, as her knowledge of the law challenged unfair practices and antiquated policies. Like Judge Jackson, Hatcher, too, is intent on working with missions seeking to raise up and amplify those who are devalued and often not seen. Her confirmation would further shift the narrative of representation and inclusion within the highest court. This would have a significant affect as cases are brought to the Supreme Court that have the potential to influence minority communities. This impact would extend to cases regarding health care affordability, women’s reproductive rights, and social justice laws.

The nomination — and confirmation — of Judge Jackson is the first step toward addressing deepened systemic injustices and inequalities as cases reach the Supreme Court. With Judge Jackson’s dedication, years of public service, and her acute understanding of how policy impacts people, her lived experience is sure to shape perspectives decided by the nation’s most powerful legal body.