Who Was The First African American Supreme Court Justice – Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the nation’s 116th justice, becoming the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. He replaces Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who is retiring. Credit credit… Sarabeth Maney for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as a judge Thursday afternoon, becoming the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
Who Was The First African American Supreme Court Justice
Judge Jackson, 51, was confirmed in April when the Senate voted 53 to 47 for his nomination. He succeeds Justice Stephen G. Breyer, 83, who retired at the end of his current term on the court.
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Justice Jackson took the constitutional oath administered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the judicial oath administered by Justice Breyer, making her the nation’s 116th justice and the sixth woman to serve on the nation’s highest court. A brief inauguration ceremony was held in the Supreme Court’s West Conference Room before a small gathering of Justice Jackson’s family, including his two daughters. Her husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, kept two Bibles on which he swore: the family Bible and the King James Version, which was owned by the court.
“I am pleased to welcome Judge Jackson to the court and to our joint convocation,” Chief Justice Roberts said, shaking his hand. He added that the official investiture will take place in the fall, but the pledges “will allow him to fulfill his tasks and he will strive to achieve them without delay.”
His elevation to the court won’t change his ideological balance — the newly expanded conservative wing will retain its 6-to-3 majority.
Ketanji Brown Jackson Becomes First Black Female Us Supreme Court Judge
He came at a time of intense polarization toward the court, especially its decision in Roe v. Wade and followed by decisions that ended the constitutional right to abortion and showed deep skepticism about the power of the judiciary to address important issues facing the country.
The Biden administration and Justice Jackson have emphasized the historic significance of his elevation to the nation’s highest court.
“It took 232 years and 115 prior nominations for a black woman to be elected to the United States Supreme Court,” Justice Jackson said at a ceremony at the White House in April. “But we did it. We did it. All of us.”
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“In the wake of such far-right extremism poisoning our nation’s highest court, it will be a vote and a vote for compassion, respect for human rights and respect for the rule of law,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the N.A.A.C.P. He said his swearing-in was “the biggest news for black America to come out of this Supreme Court in a long, long time.”
Justice Jackson faced deep opposition to his nomination among Republicans on Capitol Hill, and his confirmation hearings turned into a bitter partisan debate in which Senate Judiciary Republicans attacked him as a liberal partisan with a dubious record.
Republicans have tried to disqualify Judge Jackson, accusing him of being too soft on child sexual abuse, with divisive questions aimed at provoking culture war debates, including how he defines the word “woman.”
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Senators Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Susan Collins of Maine ultimately voted for his nomination across party lines, giving President Biden a small fraction of the bipartisan support he had hoped to garner for his candidacy.
On Thursday, Judge Jackson took a legal oath to “administer justice without respect to persons, to be equally fair to the poor and to the rich, and to discharge all my duties faithfully and impartially and in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
Judge Jackson was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Miami. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Justice Breyer’s alma mater, and clerked for the Supreme Court in 1999-2000.
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After his confirmation, Judge Jackson admitted he was intimidated by the idea of being a role model for many, but said he was ready for the job. Paraphrasing Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise,” she said, “Now I do it by bringing back the gifts my ancestors gave me. I am the slave’s dream and hope.’
Because he has served as a federal public defender and the United States Sentencing Commission, he is expected to bring specialized knowledge of criminal law and sentencing policy to the court.
Annie Carney is a congressional reporter. He was formerly a White House correspondent. Before joining The Times, he covered the 2016 White House and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign for Politico and covered local politics for the New York Post and New York Daily News for a decade. More about Annie Carney
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A version of this article appeared in the New York edition, Section A, page 15: Jackson is the first black woman sworn in to the Supreme Court. Order reprints | Today’s article | On February 25, the White House confirmed that President Joe Biden is nominating Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court. Jackson, who currently serves as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and whom the White House described in a statement as an “exceptionally qualified” candidate, is expected to become the first black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.
Although black women are underrepresented as judges in the nation’s judiciary, Jackson’s appointment is the latest milestone in a 150-year history of black women lawyers. For many, civil rights have been an important motivation for practicing law. With this in mind, historians were asked how women made their way to this moment.
They say the story begins with Charlotte Ray, a prominent black female attorney in 1872, from the point of view of obtaining a degree and license to practice; Ray received his law degree from Howard University and passed the District of Columbia bar exam. “He soon opened his own law firm, but due to segregation and widespread gender prejudice, he was unable to attract enough clients to sustain his practice,” says Henry Louis Gates in Life on These Shores: A Glimpse of African American History, 1513-2008. Ray moved to New York and became involved in the women’s suffrage movement and the National Association of Colored Women.
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Luti Little faced similar obstacles. The first black female law professor taught at the University of Central Tennessee in Nashville for a year from 1898 to 1899, but later moved to New York to work for suffragists because she couldn’t find any clients as a lawyer in the South, according to Omar H. Ali’s book In the Lion’s Mouth: Black Populism in the New South. 1897 interview. “This is a certificate of our freedom and equality before the law.”
In the late 20th century, when men left to fight in World War II, the door opened for black women lawyers. “World War II opened up law school,” says Virginia L. Summey, historian and author of “The Life of Elretha Melton Alexander: Activism in the Courts.”
Online Alexander Papers, MSS 0223, Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
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One of those beneficiaries was Elretha Melton Alexander, the first black woman to graduate from Columbia Law School in 1945. He practiced in his hometown of Greensboro, North Carolina, and his most famous case came in 1964 when he defended four black men accused of raping a white woman. Although he lost the case, he used the trial to draw attention to the race-based jury selection practices that continue in the United States today. Later, in 1968, she became the first black woman in the country to be elected as a district court judge. (In 1974, Alexander ran for Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, but lost to a firebrand salesman with no legal experience—in response, the state amended its constitution to require candidates to have a law degree.)
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Another notable forerunner of today’s Supreme Court nominee is Jane Bolin, who in 1939 became the first black woman to become a judge, and who presided over the New York Domestic Relations Court, renamed the Family Court in 1962, until 1978. “Bolin often recognized the injustice of blacks over whites and called for a revision of racism. more just,” as historian Carl Saddler describes his work in “Presumed Criminal: Black Youth and the Justice System in Postwar New York.”
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“Black women lawyers were so unusual and so stereotyped that they had to be experienced,” Kenneth Mack, author of The Race Representative:
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