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Op-Ed April 21, 2022

To the 47, We See You


On April 7, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson made history (or 'herstory') — giving us a loud cause for celebration. However, despite her extraordinary qualifications, Judge Jackson's confirmation to the Supreme Court was an arduous win.

It took harrowing hearing sessions that many of us watched with bated breath, in which Judge Jackson's record slid under the microscope. Some of the questions that emerged through the hearing were stomach-churning: Do you believe child predators are misunderstood? Could you fairly judge a Catholic? Do you agree with this book that is being taught to kids that babies are racist? Can you provide a definition for the word 'woman'?

Still, history was made. After 233 years, the nation's highest court will have a Black woman justice deciding our most significant cases with tremendous impact on our lives. But seconds after the historic vote, 47 senators walked out as 53 celebrated. I was in the room, and I witnessed it.

47 walked out on history. The same 47 working to dismantle democracy.

Only three Republican senators voted in favor of Judge Jackson. While we thank Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney for breaking rank and placing confidence in Judge Jackson's abilities to discharge her duties effectively and impartially, we are dismayed by the 47 Senators who chose partisanship.

Out of the 47 Senators who walked out, 30% are up for re-election in November's midterms. They are Boozman, John (R-AR), Crapo, Mike (R-ID), Grassley, Chuck (R-IA), Hoeven, John (R-ND), Johnson, Ron (R-WI), Kennedy, John (R-LA), Lankford, James (R-OK), Lee, Mike (R-UT), Moran, Jerry (R-KS), Paul, Rand (R-KY), Rubio, Marco (R-FL), Scott, Tim (R-SC), Thune, John (R-SD), Young, Todd (R-IN).

The nation also bore witness to the messaging that emerged during the hearing sessions. The Republican National Committee, for example, tweeted an image that replaced Judge Jackson's initials with the letters CRT, for critical race theory. Sen. Josh Hawley critiqued the judge for being soft on sex offenders, and Sen. Ted Cruz called it a deeply disturbing pattern. There were others, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who called Judge Jackson's record a slim one. Sen. Lindsey Graham walked out on the second day of the hearing, and as she was confirmed, others walked out during the standing ovation.

Graham was among the 47 senators who shared laudatory remarks before voting no from the Senate cloakroom. Several senators who also voted no, and walked out on the monumental moment of confirmation, had much to say in favor of Judge Jackson before choosing partisanship over fairness with a vote of "no" for the judge. 

"She's fought hard to be where she's at in life," Graham said. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said, "Judge Jackson has a marvelous legal education. She has vast practical experience, something that I think is a real plus." Missouri's Hawley said, "I can definitively say that I like her. She's a good person." Utah Senator Mike Lee, who is up for re-election in November, said Judge Jackson "seems like a wonderful human being…She comes with some impressive qualifications."

At face value, these comments line up with public sentiment. So we should ask ourselves why the actions of such politicians, who neglect the truth, should be ignored in re-election. It is clear that public interest is not at the forefront of their impactful decision-making but yet their own personal agendas of partisanship. These senators spoke on what they understood to be correct about Judge Jackson's character and credentials – but still voted against her despite the public majority being in favor of these exact opinions. A Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans said the Senate should vote in favor of Judge Jackson, with 30 percent opposed and 12 percent with no opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts, who joined the Court in 2005, was the only nominee with a similar level of support. Gallup has measured support for nearly all Supreme Court nominees since 1987. Douglas Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, and Stephen Breyer have been the only exceptions. There were several other polls that also showed that many Americans viewed appointing a Black woman on the Supreme Court as advancement.

The confirmation of Judge Jackson was a moment that begged for a big step of bipartisanship. It could have gone differently, without heated exchanges. Not only because it is way past time to acknowledge the hurdles that Black women face every day, but also because it is a step toward inclusion in a time when America is reckoning with racial injustices, both past, and present. It has been 55 years since former NAACP Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall became the first Black American to sit on the Supreme Court. A qualified Black judge was due a fair hearing and confirmation, and not to be pilloried.

Like countless Black women in the workplace, Judge Jackson, an esteemed, credible, and accomplished Black woman, still had to fight to prove herself worthy of the job. In a report titled "The Status of Black Women in America,"  Alicia Garza, civil rights activist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, writes "Black women are getting the short end of the stick--despite having contributed so much to the building of this nation. The result is a racialized economy where Black women are losing ground."

Black women who were once denied the right to vote, now face voter suppression in some states that are represented by the 47 senators who decided not to support Judge Jackson. This action is emblematic of the opposition these senators voice on other issues such as climate change, Roe v. Wade, and police reform. 

The lines are clear. The votes against Judge Jackson were a deliberate move against democracy and a nation that promises to uplift all people. This decision meant so much more than the confirmation of a judge. It signaled equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice. The 47 turned their backs on those values.

In the current polarized climate, we recognize the bravery it takes to stand up for what is right — situations for candidates seeking re-election are tenuous at best. Even though Judge Jackson's record was cast in an unfavorable light, we are conscious of those who decided to support her.

Soon-to-be Justice Jackson will have an immeasurable impact on Supreme Court decisions. It's not just about her vote on the bench; it's about her voice. Over the years, she will bring her background and experiences to backdoor back-and-forths with fellow justices before any case decisions are made. She will build relationships with others serving on the Court. She will be a part of the negotiations and conversations, bringing in her perspective, which may influence decisions in the coming decades. That is what we are so excited about. A Black woman will soon have a voice – not just a vote – in our nation's highest court.

Yet, 47 walked out on her historic confirmation. And as the midterm elections draw closer, we need to hold those who chose to move away from casting a vote in favor of equality, accountable for their actions. Let's not forget, many in this group wanted to overturn the 2020 Presidential election. But in this election coming up in a few months, we have a powerful chance to let the 47 senators know where we stand. We cannot walk out on the opportunity to vote this November.

To those who walked out, we see you. To those who stood with us, we stand with you. To the 47, we'll see you at the polls this November.

We join the celebration with hope and pride. Judge Jackson's background, from her work as a public defender to her role on the Sentencing Commission, will bring a much-needed perspective to the Court. Her commitment to fairness and equal justice is apparent and we look forward to Judge Jackson taking her place on the bench when Justice Stephen Breyer retires at the end of the 2021-22 term.


Derrick Lewis - Youth & College Hero

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