The Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's nomination to become the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court begin today, March 21. It's an emotional moment for Black women who have struggled all our lives against racism and sexism.
The historic confirmation hearing has motivated me to write an open letter to some of my mentors who are no longer with us. Even in death, they exert a powerful influence over our individual lives and the life of our nation.
My open letter is addressed to these civil rights pioneers in heaven: Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first Black candidate for a major party presidential nomination; Rosa Parks, whose refusal to tolerate racism jump-started the civil rights movement in 1955; Judge Constance Baker Motley, the first Black female federal judge; Dr. Dorothy Height, who served for 40 years as the president of the National Council of Negro Women; Congresswoman Barbara Jordan; C. Delores Tucker, civil rights leader; Rev Willie T. Barrow, civil rights pioneer; America's poet Dr. Maya Angelou and Althea Simmons, chief of the NAACP's Washington bureau and the organization's chief Washington lobbyist.
* * *
My Dear Sisters,
The world has been changing for the better since you left us all too soon, as we move forward to achieve Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of equality. Now we are on the edge of a remarkable achievement: seeing the first Black woman on the Supreme Court, if the Senate confirms the brilliant Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination.
A Harvard Law School graduate who has served as a law clerk on the Supreme Court and two lower courts, vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a federal public defender, a U.S. district judge, and current federal appeals court judge, Judge Jackson stands out as one of the most qualified Supreme Court nominees in the court’s 233-year history.
All of you deserve credit for paving the road that led to Judge Jackson’s nomination, just as you paved the road that led to the election of our first Black president and vice president, the election of the 28 Black women currently serving in the U.S. House, and my own career as the first Black woman to manage a major party presidential campaign and as interim chair of the Democratic National Committee.
If confirmed by the Senate, Judge Jackson will work to make the commitment of our Constitution to equal justice for all a reality and not just a beautiful phrase. She will work for the days Dr. King spoke of in his “I Have a Dream” speech when “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream,” paraphrasing the Hebrew prophet Amos.
Each of you threw rocks in the stream and sent ripples through the Black community that turned into waves, as Black women and men took advantage of the opportunities you helped create to go to college, medical school, law school, and take other educational paths closed off to us in years past. And we can now vote thanks to your work — something my parents were barred from doing when I was a young girl in Louisiana, and something many Republicans are now trying to suppress.
I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, hearing “no you can’t” when I dreamed big dreams for my future and the future of other Black Americans. Judge Jackson’s nomination fulfills the promise of President Barack Obama’s campaign slogan: “Yes we can.” Like President Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris, Judge Jackson is making that slogan a reality.
When I was young, I never imagined a lawyer who looks like me could sit on our nation’s highest court in my lifetime — a court with a disgraceful history of racism.
For example, in 1857 the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in the case of the enslaved Dred Scott that “a negro, whose ancestors were imported into [the U.S.] and sold as slaves” could ever become a U.S. citizen and had no right to file lawsuits seeking freedom or anything else. The same decision said the federal government could not limit slavery to certain territories, leading to the Civil War.
And in 1896 the Supreme Court’s infamous 7-1 Plessy v. Ferguson decision upheld the constitutionality of segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine.
How times have changed!
While it appears that all Senate Democrats will vote to confirm Judge Jackson, I hope that some Republicans will follow in the footsteps of the greatest Republican president in our history, the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln, and vote to confirm her as well.
Judge Jackson is your daughter. She is where she is because of you. Her elevation to our highest court is supported by everyone who believes that opening the doors of the American Dream to all of us is a moral imperative and that we shall overcome the slings and arrows of those who do not.
Look down from heaven, dear sisters, and watch Kentanji Brown Jackson make history, just as you did.
Veteran Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile is an adjunct professor, author, syndicated columnist, television political commentator, Vice Chair of Voter Registration and Participation at the Democratic National Committee, and former interim National Chair of the Democratic National Committee as well as the former chair of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute.
Get Word In Black directly in your inbox. Subscribe today.