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Stanford experts respond to confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson

April 8, 2022, 12:33 a.m.

Stanford legal experts emphasized the historic nature of United States Supreme Court nominee Kentanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation during a final U.S. Senate vote on Thursday.

With a 53-47 vote in favor of her confirmation, Jackson will become the first Black woman and the first former federal defender to sit on the nation’s highest court. She will also serve as the Court’s first former defense attorney since the retirement of Thurgood Marshall, an experience that Stanford law professor Shirin Sinnar J.D. ’03 believes is rare in today’s federal courts.

Sinnar also emphasized the importance of Jackson’s unique identities and the fresh perspective that she will bring to the Supreme Court’s judicial decisions.

“Justices bring to the Court perspectives shaped by their lived experiences and their identities,” Sinnar wrote to The Daily. “Judge Jackson is an incredibly well-respected jurist, and one whose identity as a Black woman and former public defender will bring new understanding of the experiences and lives of people who have so often been marginalized by the Court.” 

Law professor and veteran U.S. Supreme Court litigator Jeffrey L. Fisher agreed, adding that Jackson’s former profession as a public defender will promote an understanding of the law and litigation rarely considered in the federal courts.

“The headline, of course, is that, after more than two hundred years, we finally have a Black woman slated to serve on our Nation’s highest court,” Fisher wrote to The Daily. “As someone who also teaches and sometimes handles cases about criminal justice, it is also a significant step forward to have someone on the bench who formerly served as a public defender. That is an important type of lawyering experience that has all-too-often been overlooked in selecting judges for all levels of the federal judiciary.”

Jackson’s confirmation, however, was rife with contention. Although three Republicans — Susan Collins (R-MI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) — joined the 48 Democratic senators and two independents caucusing with the Democratic Party in confirming her nomination, Republican senators questioned Jackson on culture-war issues and decried her as “lenient” on crime. 

Ted Cruz (R-TX) claimed that Georgetown Country Day School, a private school for which Jackson serves on the board, had a curriculum “filled and overflowing with critical race theory.” Josh Hawley ’02 (R-MO) accused Jackson of having “handed down lenient sentences” during her years as a judge. 

Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) charged Jackson with having a “hidden agenda” to “let violent criminals, cop killers and child predators back onto the streets.” Blackburn also asked Jackson for “a definition of the word ‘woman’” and condemned Jackson for deferring to a biologist. 

Lindsey Graham (R-SC) took special offense to a legal brief Jackson wrote while defending Guantanamo detainees that Graham said “accused President Bush and his team of being war criminals.”

In the face of the partisanship Republicans demonstrated against Jackson, Director of the Constitutional Law Center and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Michael McConnell pointed to how appointees of former President Donald Trump received staunch opposition from Democratic senators, with Trump’s final justice — Amy Coney Barrett — becoming the first Supreme Court member in history confirmed with no votes from the opposition party.

“The lack of bipartisanship is the new normal. Of the most recent nominees, the three Republican nominees got even less support from Democrats than Judge Jackson is getting from Republicans,” McConnell wrote. “Amy Coney Barrett got zero Democratic votes and Brett Kavanaugh got one; Neil Gorsuch was filibustered! Of the two Democratic nominees before Judge Jackson, Sonia Sotomayor got nine Republican votes and Elena Kagan got five.”

McConnell also highlighted President Joe Biden’s personal record as a senator in the opposition of Republican nominees to the Supreme Court.

“As a Senator, Joe Biden voted against Bork, Thomas, Roberts and Alito — whom he tried to filibuster,” McConnell wrote. “He is not in any position to ask Republicans to defer to his choices.”

Jed Ngalande ‘23 is a Staff Writer for Vol. 259 Academic News.

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