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It’s a peculiar time we live in. I’d like to believe there used to be a time when someone’s work experience and credentials spoke for themselves without the politicization of their workspace. That seems to be a long forgotten practice in watching the Senate proceedings on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Despite the fact that Judge Jackson is one of the most qualified SCOTUS nominees in recent history — and tied for the most popular nominee among the public, initially, according to Gallup News — many Republican senators disregarded Jackson’s judicial prowess and experience in favor of attacking her character with unsubstantiated claims about her stance on child pornography, among other things. And these were attacks that even Sen Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, admitted other GOP senators engaged in for attractive TV sound bites.
In many ways, the confirmation proceedings for Jackson put a spotlight on how Black women in the United States are treated in the workplace, with double standards put in place to push the glass ceiling even further out of reach. An example? The consistent questioning of Jackson’s ability to do exemplary work despite her exceeding the experience and qualifications of many judges currently serving on the Supreme Court.
As a Black woman, I saw myself, my mother and my grandmother in many of Judge Jackson’s responses and facial expressions to placate white fears, doubts and more. Jackson remained the picture-perfect image of pleasant, nodding and plastering a smile on in response to vicious attacks of her character, mispronunciations or mockings of her name (which honors her ancestral roots), repeated questioning on her LSAT score and more. This is emblematic of the double standards Black women face in their workplaces, forcing themselves to nod and smile even when they are being disrespected, in fear that they will be accused of being “unprofessional” or embodying the “angry Black woman,” among other stereotypes.
In contrast, many of her predecessors were not treated the same way, with questioning focused more so on their judicial process and experience. If we remember, Justice Brett Kavanaugh did little to keep his emotions in check during his confirmation hearings, bursting out into tears on multiple occasions and raising his voice with spittle flying out of his mouth when his character was attacked (and rightfully so, when alleged criminal behavior was at play).
Never during Kavanaugh’s or Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s hearings were their race or gender made the focal point. Admittedly, it was to be expected with President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court. And we should celebrate the historic opportunity Jackson’s nomination sheds light on, as her confirmation means Jackson will serve as the first ever Black woman on the court, and only the third person of African American descent. But the fact that Jackson is a Black woman should not warrant different behavior and a focus only on political issues like Black Lives Matter during her confirmation hearings. As that is unequal and unfair treatment.
I think it’s rather indicative, too, that Iowa Sens. Grassley and Joni Ernst are both no votes on confirming Jackson, despite her achievements and experience. Grassley cited philosophical differences, stating, “I think she and I have fundamentally different views on the role judges should play in our system of government," he said. And Ernst concurred with Grassley’s view, stating on the Senate floor, “Perhaps my greatest issue with Judge Jackson is her lack of an adherence to a judicial philosophy,” Ernst said. “Judge Jackson explained during the Senate Judiciary hearing that she abides by a judiciary, quote, methodology, instead of a philosophy.”
Now, the court requires more than a commitment to impartiality, because justices must interpret the law adequately, which requires an examination of ethics and an understanding of judicial law. Both Grassley and Ernst found issues with Jackson’s lack of judicial philosophy, as Jackson abides by a judicial methodology to remain neutral, focusing only on the facts and written law for her interpretation. As such, Jackson refused to take the bait of Republican senators trying to define her, rising above their attacks. If senators couldn’t gauge her judicial philosophy from the 13 grueling hours in which they questioned her and she carefully explained the nuances of her reasoning on certain cases, then that’s on them — not Jackson.
I don’t know about you, but I think it’s about time we had an objective justice on the Court again, one who strives to focus simply on the facts of the case and judicial law instead of political agendas.
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com