Ketanji Brown Jackson Is First Black Woman Nominated to Supreme Court

A drawing depicting “Madame Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson” on the exterior of Booeymonger in Friendship Heights. Photo by Annabel Hilzenrath.

In 2016, senior Leila Jackson, then 11 years old, wrote to President Barack Obama to recommend he consider her mother, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who served on the D.C. district court at the time, to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat.

“She is determined, honest and never breaks a promise to anyone,” Leila wrote, according to a lecture her mother delivered in 2017. “She can demonstrate commitment and is loyal and never brags. I think she would make a great Supreme Court justice.”

Six years after the letter was sent, Judge Jackson, now a member of the federal appellate court in D.C., may have that chance. President Joe Biden announced on Feb. 25 that he was nominating Jackson to take Justice Stephen Breyer’s place on the Court.

If the Senate confirms her, Jackson would be the first Black woman and the third current or former GDS parent on the Court. She would also be the second justice to have served on the school’s Board of Trustees, in addition to Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Court’s first Black member.

“I am thrilled for our country,” Head of School Russell Shaw said about the news in an interview with the Bit. “Having Judge Jackson’s thoughtful wisdom, life experience, integrity on the highest court in the land would be a good thing for the United States.”

He expects Jackson will step down from the Board.

Students and teachers interviewed by the Bit were unanimously excited about the move one step closer to the confirmation of a Black, female justice.

Pam Stanfield, the assistant athletic director, said in an interview that seeing a Black woman chosen for the Supreme Court motivates her and may inspire young people, too.

“I just think about the kids growing up witnessing this,” she said. “It just gives them hope for when they’re trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives.” She added that Jackson’s nomination “brings excitement” to GDS.

Senior Bruno Sullivan told the Bit that his classmates had discussed the speculation about Jackson’s possible selection in the senior corner of the Forum over the past month. “It’s something we were hoping for,” Sullivan said.

In an interview, junior Christian Freeman noted the symbolic effect Jackson’s nomination may have on Black women’s aspirations. “There’s a way paved for them,” he said, “and I think that’s important.”

Biden introduced Jackson, as well as her husband and daughter, in an event at the White House on Feb. 25. He joked that he had asked Leila in the Oval Office whether she would like to someday be president, a suggestion she did not seem to embrace in his telling. “Anyway,” Biden said, “Leila, you’re welcome to be here.”

In her remarks, Judge Jackson discussed her personal background and said, “The United States of America is the greatest beacon of hope and democracy the world has ever known.”

Jackson joined the Board in 2019 and serves on its External Affairs and Facilities Master Planning Committees. She attended both Harvard College and Harvard Law School with Board Chair Lisa Fairfax.

Jackson must be confirmed by the evenly split Senate, whose ties are broken by Vice President Kamala Harris, to join the Supreme Court when its term ends this summer.

Math and history teacher Andy Lipps, who teaches Law and Constitutional Rights and an elective about civil rights, said in an interview that Jackson’s experience as a former federal public defense lawyer would be a unique asset on the Court.

“It helps enormously to have someone who was in the arena, who has that experience, who knows what it means to represent a client in a criminal case,” Lipps, a former local public defender, said.

He pointed out as well that Jackson received support from three Republican senators, in addition to all 50 Democrats, when she was confirmed last June to her present position.

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