Home News and Features Representation Matters: Witnessing Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Hearing

Representation Matters: Witnessing Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Hearing

The author, right, and her daughter Juliette Eckart Baning in front of the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., during the Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings in March. Courtesy photo.
I had the privilege of attending President Barack Obama’s first inauguration while I was pregnant with my daughter. Though not yet born, I know she heard the sound of President Obama’s voice as he gave his speech, and felt the emotions of the masses. I know she could sense the passion that emanated from the two older Black women standing to my left, crying, as they witnessed a sight they thought they would never see before they died.

I know that she heard the laughter of the young Black men and women to my right, who could chatter about sneakers, because they were growing up in a world where it was possible to have a Black man as president. And most of all, I know that she could sense my awe. Awe in the fact that she would be born into a world where the only president she knew looked like her. Not just because he is Black, but because he is half African. She would have a president who truly reflected who she was as a person.

Eight years later, she witnessed Hilary Clinton make a run for president; and even though Clinton lost, she presented a reality that meant my daughter could be the first Black female president if she wanted to.

In 2021, we watched Kamala Harris accompany President-elect Joe Biden onto the balcony for their inauguration. We saw Jill Biden, Kamala Harris, Michelle Obama, and Amanda Gorman standing together, in all their beauty, representing different races and ages, representing what can be accomplished by women.

Now we celebrate the confirmation of the first Black female Supreme Court Justice. One more historic moment that my daughter not only witnessed, but actively participated in.

We spent four days in Washington, D.C. alongside many other women lending voices and time to ensure that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson would be confirmed. 

Our first morning in Washington my daughter commented on how many Black people she saw. She referred to one fellow activist as the Glamorous Grandma. As we joined a hundred other people on the steps of the Supreme Court, she watched as woman after woman stood to speak. Black women, brown women, older women, young girls, leaders of state and national organizations. She chanted, held posters, took pictures, and was surrounded by glorious, powerful, educated women of color. She listened to them speak about how they have stood on the shoulders of those who came before them, and how they brace their shoulders to hold those who will come after. They talked about what it meant to be a part of this historic moment. They raised their voices in song, so that Judge Jackson would hear and feel the support radiating from the steps outside.

On our third day, my daughter and I, along with three other Black women advocates from Vermont, met with Senator Leahy’s legislative director to discuss why the confirmation of Judge Jackson was so important. We shared that not only was this a historical nomination that would create a 4–5 split gender wise, but it also was a step closer to the Supreme Court being a more accurate representation of the people it was created to serve. On top of that, Judge Jackson is not only qualified for this position (she has already been confirmed on three separate occasions) but she also is overqualified. 

We watched the hearings from Senator Leahy’s office, witnessing Senator Graham attack Judge Jackson. In fact, throughout these hearings, we saw Republican senator after Republican senator attack Judge Jackson. They asked her questions with no connection to the work she would be doing. They used racist rhetoric and Republican buzzwords to try and tear her down. And hour after hour, she sat poised, confidently and intelligently answering every attack. She proved repeatedly that she is a consummate professional. 

Thankfully, Senator Booker gave us a much-needed respite from the attacks by speaking from his heart. He spoke of Judge Jackson’s professional capabilities, he spoke of the impact of this historical moment, and he spoke of her integrity in the face of adversity. He brought Judge Jackson to tears, along with every Black woman watching at home.

The internet was abuzz with how Judge Jackson conducted herself. Newscasters spoke about it, and it was the conversation across the country. As a Black woman, when I watched Judge Jackson and listened to these conversations and read these comments, I had mixed emotions. I am so proud of Judge Jackson. I am so grateful that my daughter has her as an example of how to respond to racist rhetoric and ignorant attacks. But at the same time, I am resigned to the reality that this is how we as Black women must conduct ourselves, because to behave otherwise reinforces that trope of us as angry, emotional, sassy, etc. While my daughter and I celebrated Judge Jackson’s demeanor, we also discussed the pressure of having to portray ourselves in a certain way in order to be taken seriously.

My parents have always told me that I can be anything I want to be. I spent a lot of my youth accompanying my mother to political rallies, picket lines, speeches, and even clinic defenses. I grew up seeing firsthand that women have power and can use it to make change. But all those women didn’t look like me. They looked like my mother — white. Now, as I spend my time advocating, speaking, lobbying, writing, creating change, my daughter gets to see a woman who looks like her. On our trip to Washington she saw hundreds of women who look like her. She has a vice president who looks like her, and now with this confirmation, she will have a Supreme Court Justice who looks like her. 

As a mother, I couldn’t be more blessed, to have had the opportunity to share this experience with my daughter, to have her participate firsthand in political action and in effecting change, to see herself reflected in powerful women from all over the country doing powerful things. When asked about the impact this trip has had on her, she responded that she wants to move to Washington and potentially work at the Capitol. She also said that it is important to see someone who not only looks like her, but also has hair like her. 

Representation matters.

Since writing this commentary, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. Her confirmation passed with a vote of 53–47. At the White House ceremony on Friday, April 8, she told the gathered crowd, “It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it. We made it. All of us.”