Wit, Grit, and Grace: The Remarkable Confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson

 Wit, Grit, and Grace: The Remarkable Confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson

The United States will have a new justice on the Supreme Court, and it will be Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Notwithstanding a grueling process marked by inflammatory accusations, innuendo, political grandstanding, unbecoming conduct, and sadly flat-out lies by some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Jackson prevailed during her confirmation hearings and by a bipartisan vote of 53-47 will become the 116th justice on the court. This historic milestone opens another door heretofore closed to Black women, and barely cracked for women generally.

Since its founding in 1789, the court has operated as an exclusive club, securing a male monopoly by upholding laws that barred even white women from becoming attorneys and delivering opinions that furthered the dehumanizing and unequal treatment of Black people. In the 1873 case Bradwell v. Illinois, the high court upheld legislation in Illinois barring women from practicing law. Justice Joseph Bradley wrote that it was “repugnant” for a woman to adopt “a distinct and independent” civic life from her husband, because under the law women lacked fundamental capabilities.

The ripple effects of decisions such as Bradwell shaped future legislation at the state level, producing undeniable currents that closed doors for women in law. The subsequent ruling by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court in 1875 further illustrates the strategy used by elite, white men on the bench to deny women the opportunity to become lawyers, let alone judges. According to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, “We cannot but think the common law wise in excluding women from the profession of law. The law of nature destines and qualifies the female sex for the bearing and nurture of the children. ” The court concluded its sophistry with: “The peculiar qualities of womanhood, its gentle graces, its quick sensibility, its tender susceptibility, its purity, its delicacy, its emotional impulses, its subordination of hard reason to sympathetic feeling, are surely not qualifications for forensic strife. ”

Ironically, the notion of promoting women’s safety, virtue, and protection was the legal lark that normalized misogyny and discrimination.

America’s endemic racism is reflected in the Supreme Court’s decisions in cases like Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), where Chief Justice Roger Taney claimed that Black people like Mr. Scott, his wife, and two daughters were so “far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Justice Taney further wrote that people like them “might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for [their] benefit. ” Even after slavery’s abolition, the Supreme Court upheld racially discriminatory laws in cases like Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and the Civil Rights Cases (1883), which solemnized “separate but equal” policies and the denial of civil rights.

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