When Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Rises, We All Rise

During his final speech 54 years ago last night, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged the United States to live up to its highest ideals. “Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination,” Dr. King said. “And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

More than five decades later, as we remember the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination this week, we have an opportunity to advance justice in America and help build a nation as good as its ideals.

Later this week, the Senate is expected to vote on the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman and first former public defender to serve on our nation’s highest court. When Judge Jackson is elevated to the Supreme Court, she won’t just make history — she will be living it.

During her confirmation hearing last month, several senators spoke about what this moment means for America.

“Judge Jackson’s nomination breaks an artificially confining mold of our past and opens up a more promising, potential-filled future for us all as Americans,” Senator Cory Booker, the first Black man to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said during the hearing’s first day. “It signals that this nation will draw more deeply from all of our talent and genius that will benefit all Americans.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar, the first woman elected to the Senate from Minnesota, remarked that Judge Jackson was “opening a door that’s long been shut to so many. And by virtue of your strong presence, your skills, your experience — you are showing so many little girls and little boys across the country that anything, and everything, is possible.”

Judge Jackson knew that was true. When answering a question from Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was the first woman to serve as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Judge Jackson noted the importance of her presence on the Supreme Court.

“One of the things that having diverse members of the Court does is it provides for the opportunity for role models. Since I was nominated to this position, I have received so many notes and letters and photos from little girls around the country who tell me that they are so excited for this opportunity and that they thought about the law in new ways because I am a woman, because I am a Black woman,” Judge Jackson said. “We want, I think, as a country for everyone to believe that they can do things like sit on the Supreme Court. And so having meaningful numbers of women and people of color, I think, matters.”

Despite the significance of her nomination — and despite her brilliance, her exceptional qualifications, and her stellar judicial temperament — Judge Jackson faced meritless attacks and unfair treatment by some committee members during her confirmation hearing. While we do not wish to elevate this insidious behavior and demagoguery any further, we did write to the Senate, joined by 55 other organizations, to call it out for what it was: political pandering to extremists.

It is fitting that Judge Jackson’s committee vote is occurring on poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou’s birthday. As Angelou wrote in one of her best-known poems, “Still I Rise:”

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

As hard as some senators tried to tear her down, Judge Jackson and her passion for public service shone through. She is clearly the right person for this job and has proven that to our country.

When Judge Jackson is confirmed and rises to our nation’s highest court, we will all rise with her. Because the truth is this: Her confirmation will be historic, it will matter tremendously for the courts and for our country, and we have no doubt that she will be an outstanding justice for all of us.

Senators must meet this incredible moment in history and confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.