Law & Courts

Ketanji Brown Jackson: 5 Things for Educators to Know About the Nominee and Her Hearing

By Mark Walsh — March 22, 2022 4 min read
Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson listens during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, March 21, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
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The Senate Judiciary Committee is conducting the confirmation hearing this week for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to succeed retiring Justice Stephen G. Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court. Here are some highlights on the nominee and from the first two days of the hearing.

Jackson is a daughter of educators

Jackson’s parents, Johnny and Ellery Brown, were among several beaming family members in the hearing room. Both attended historically Black colleges before becoming teachers in Washington, D.C., where the nominee was born. They moved back to their native Miami so Johnny Brown could go to law school. He eventually became the legal counsel to the Miami-Dade County school board. Ellery Brown became the principal of a public arts magnet school.

Jackson noted in her opening statement that her parents had experienced “lawful racial segregation first-hand” growing up in Miami.

“My parents taught me that, unlike the many barriers that they had had to face growing up, my path was clearer, such that if I worked hard and believed in myself, in America I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be.”

She praised the late teacher who introduced her to Harvard

In her opening statement, Jackson acknowledged a teacher at Miami Palmetto Senior High School who had especially inspired her. “I have … had extraordinary mentors, like my high school debate coach, Fran Berger, may she rest in peace,” Jackson said. “She invested fully in me, including taking me to Harvard—the first I’d ever really thought of it—to enter a speech competition. Mrs. Berger believed in me, and, in turn, I believed in myself.”

The high school trip to Harvard sparked her interest in applying to the university, which she did, despite the guidance counselor who advised her not to set her sights “so high.” Jackson graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

Jackson is being lauded as an inspiration to young people

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., told Jackson that her nomination to become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court was breaking a glass ceiling. “By virtue of your strong presence, your skills, your experience, you’re showing so many little girls and little boys across the country that anything and everything is possible,” the senator said.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., compared Jackson to Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old Black student who desegregated her New Orleans elementary school in 1960.

“Just as another person in American history, Ruby Bridges, walked through a critical door in our history with her chin held high, her back held straight, and a fierce determination to make a difference, so you, too, today begin the process of walking through this next open door.”

If confirmed, she would quickly face a major case on race in education

As a federal district judge in Washington, Jackson ruled on a number of routine special education and employment discrimination cases involving educational institutions. If she is confirmed, she would face a Supreme Court docket that includes a major case on affirmative action in admissions, involving Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. Because Jackson has been a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers, an advisory panel of alumni, she is expected to face questions during the hearing on whether she would recuse herself from the affirmative action cases.

Republicans level education-related criticism

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, questioned Jackson Tuesday about critical race theory and whether Georgetown Day School, the Washington private school where she serves on the board, has embraced critical race theory as part of its “social justice” teaching.

“If you look at the Georgetown Day School’s curriculum, it is filled and overflowing with critical race theory,” Cruz said.

He held up books that he said were “either assigned or recommended” by the school, including one titled Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. His aides displayed blowups of a children’s book called Antiracist Baby, by Ibram X. Kendi, which Cruz said declares that babies are taught to be either racist or antiracist.

“Senator, I have not reviewed any of those books, any of those ideas,” Jackson told Cruz. “They don’t come up in my work as a judge, which I’m, respectfully, here to address.”

Jackson said she has never applied critical race theory in her role as a judge. And she said that as a board member she has no role in making decisions about Georgetown Day’s curriculum. She said that the private school’s embrace of social justice stems from its founding in 1945 as a racially integrated school at a time when Washington’s public schools remained segregated by law.

Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Cruz also raised questions about Jackson’s past praise for Nikole Hannah-Jones, the journalist who led the 1619 Project of The New York Times that reassesses the role of slavery in U.S. history. Jackson said she recognized Hannah-Jones in a law school address about African-American women and their contributions to the civil rights movement. She said she had not consulted or cited the 1619 Project in her work as a judge.

Jackson’s testimony was to continue Wednesday and the committee was to hear from other witnesses on Thursday.

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