Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the daughter of a couple of school teachers who grew up in the era of racial segregation, made history this Thursday by becoming the first black woman to sit on the all-powerful Supreme Court of the United States, a body of 232 years old made up of nine magistrates for life who have had the last word in social achievements such as the end of that same racial segregation, the legalization of gay marriage or the right to abortion. Jackson, 51, was educated at Harvard and has served since 2021 as head of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (metropolitan area of the city of Washington). The Senate confirmed her appointment in a tight vote, contrary to the large majorities achieved by other appointments of historic significance in the past, a reflection of the climate of political tribalism that today occupies most political decisions.
An emotional Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States, who also broke her own glass ceiling, confirmed the result out loud and the room erupted in applause. With the confirmation, Joe Biden also achieved his own victory, as he appoints his first member of the Supreme Court and prevents the country’s highest judicial authority from leaning further to the right: there are six conservative and three progressive togados, an imbalance that cannot be I saw in 80 years.
The nomination of these magistrates, although it must later be ratified in the upper house, is one of the greatest exercises of presidential power, given the power they hold for the rest of their lives —if they die with their boots on— or their careers, if they go. Jackson replaces another progressive, Stephen Breyer, 83, for retirement, maintaining the conservative majority of the highest judicial authority in the country.
The confirmation of a Supreme Court judge only requires a simple majority in the upper house. Democrats and Republicans are equal in seats 50-50, but the Vice President of the Government -Harris, in this case- exercises the quality vote in case of a tie, with which the Democratic Party exercises de facto control, but it cannot be allowed lose any of their own. The support of three of the Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney and Susan Collins – and the lack of news of deserters in their own ranks – made it clear in recent days that Jackson already had enough votes.
It has been far, however, from the overwhelming bipartisan majority that supported Thurgood Marshall, the first black judge of the high court, nominated by the Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967 confirmed by 69 votes against 11. And light years from 99 -0 with which the first female judge, Sandra Day O’Connor, came forward in 1981, at the proposal of Republican Ronald Reagan. Also the popular Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a feminist icon who died in 2020, achieved 96 votes in favor, compared to only three against.
The latest appointments of judges, on the contrary, have served to show the gap between parties. Jackson has been criticized by Republicans for her role as a public defender for Guantánamo prisoners, as well as some sentences that they branded as mild for accused of child pornography, and have tried to present her to the public as an activist. In her role as a Washington district judge, she blocked attempts by the Donald Trump administration to speed up the deportations of undocumented immigrants or to prevent a former White House adviser from testifying in Congress.
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In her presentation before the Capitol, at the beginning of the confirmation process, the jurist defended her integrity with these words: “I have been a judge for almost a decade and I take that responsibility and my duty of independence very seriously. I make decisions about my cases from neutrality. I evaluate the facts, and interpret and apply the law based on those facts, without fear or bias, and always consistently with my oath.”
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