WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 28: Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on pending judicial nominations on Capitol Hill, April 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. The committee is holding the hearing on pending judicial nominations. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque-Pool/Getty Images)
By Stephen Williams
PHILADELPHIA — The U.S. Senate’s confirmation vote Thursday for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first African American woman to join the Supreme Court, typified her perseverance in the face of grueling hearings, Philadelphia legal observers have said.
In a historic bipartisan vote of 53-47, Jackson will also become the second woman of color and the first Supreme Court justice with a background as a public defender in more than 200 years.
“I think about the confirmation hearings, how her daughter looked at her,” Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court Judge Timika R. Lane said. “I think about her struggles and her perseverance to get her to this point. I think about how she had the highest rating from the Bar Association and how she was confirmed with bi-partisan support.”
Lane said she was overjoyed and proud as a Black woman judge of color.
“It goes to the remarkable woman that she is,” she said. “She is qualified and her credentials are impeccable.”
Lane ran for Pennsylvania Superior Court, but lost in the general election to Megan Sullivan in 2021.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Maria Sotomayor, the daughter of Puerto Rican parents from the Bronx borough of New York City, was nominated by President Barack Obama in May 2009 and became the first woman of color to join the bench in 2009.
Bernard W. Smalley, Sr., is a partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Raynes & Lawn and was the first and only African American to be elected as president of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association. He described the confirmation vote as momentous.
“Today’s vote is the second time in my life that I got a chance to see an event, the first being the election of President Obama becoming the first African-American president,” Smalley said. “This is the second time we got a chance to witness something that our parents hoped for but probably thought they would never get a chance to see. The vote for Judge Jackson is something that our parents, grandparents and all of our ancestors fought for, but we now get a chance to witness. She will be a magnificent judge.”
“Women of color girls of color, they get a chance to see it. If you can see it you can be it,” Smalley said. “Black women, Black girls, Black girls not yet born now have the opportunity to take a look and see someone who looks like them on the bench and say I can be that.”
State House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said she is overjoyed that Jackson will soon take her well-earned and historic seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
“America has waited more than 230 years to have the voice of a Black woman on the nation’s highest bench, and I am celebrating this significant step toward having a Supreme Court that reflects our diversity,” McClinton said. “While this is a historic moment for our nation, I am more excited for all of the young Black girls and Black women of all ages in our communities who can look at our nation’s most prominent leaders and finally see themselves represented and know that they too can achieve anything.”
McClinton serves as leader of the state House Democratic Caucus. In 2018, she was the first woman to be elected floor leader of either party in 244 years.
“The Defender Association of Philadelphia joins public defenders across the nation in celebrating and congratulating Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. Jackson’s confirmation is historic, not only because she’s the first Black woman to be a Supreme Court Justice, but also the first public defender to achieve this honor,” Chief Defender Keisha Hudson of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, said in a statement.
“The confirmation process, while fraught at times, was important, because it started a dialog about the role of public defenders in our nation’s justice system,” Hudson continued. “During the confirmation hearings, some U.S. Senators tried to paint Justice Jackson and other defenders as ‘soft on crime.’ But in reality, a strong public defense is necessary to ensure fair treatment in court, regardless of defendants’ ability to pay for legal counsel. No one is more dedicated to ensuring that our justice system works for everyone than public defenders.”
Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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