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Republicans’ efforts to dismiss Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination as ‘affirmative action’ show a lack of support for Black women


The problem is that after those five names, I pressed hard to come up with any others. Trust me, I know. I spent over 20 years of my life as a Republican woman of color, and it was not a very positive experience. I have written many articles about it over the years, and I am sad to see little has changed since I first joined the GOP as a college sophomore in 1988.

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The reality is that as we head into the confirmation phase of the historic Supreme Court nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the Republican Party that will vet her in the Senate does not have one elected Black woman in the Congress. White women are represented in local, state and federal offices, but not as well as Democratic women, who make up the majority of the country’s female elected officials.

In the current Congress, women make up 38 percent of Democrats, a much larger share than the 14 percent of women who are Republican members. Across both chambers, there are 106 Democratic women and 38 Republican women in the new Congress. Women account for 40 percent of House Democrats and 32 percent of Senate Democrats, compared with 14 percent of House Republicans and 16 percent of Senate Republicans.

Biden’s nomination of Jackson to the Supreme Court on Friday, along with his historic choice of Kamala D. Harris as his running mate in 2020, has likely solidified the Black female vote for Democrats for the next century. Maybe that’s why Republican senators, the Republican National Committee and many conservative White male pundits are carping about the unfairness of Biden’s commitment to appoint the first Black woman to the court.

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But here’s something Republicans should consider: Every historic first nominated to the Supreme Court has received overwhelming bipartisan support, even when the nominee did not share the judicial philosophy or political party of the senators who voted for them. Starting in 1967 when Thurgood Marshall, who was confirmed 69 to 11 as the first Black associate justice of the court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed 99 to 0 when she became the first female member of the court in 1981. The Senate confirmed the first Latina, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in 2009 by a vote of 68 to 31.

These shrieks and rants of “affirmative action” about Jackson’s nomination are just raw meat for an aggrieved White base of Americans who see any racial progress as a threat to their own. Not only are Jackson’s credentials impeccable, they are in line with most other nominees: Most are Ivy League-educated, many are former law clerks and have experience on the federal bench; Jackson checks all of those boxes.

If Senate Republicans try to derail Jackson’s nomination they risk going down in history as breaking from precedent in overwhelmingly supporting historic nominees to the court and raising questions of whether their actions are racially motivated. Critics didn’t wait to find out which Black woman Biden would name; they attacked the idea that any Black woman was qualified for the job.

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Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told the New York Times: “The idea that race and gender should be the No. 1 and no. 2 criteria is not as it should be.” Collins went further in this interview and said, “On the other hand, there are many qualified Black women for this post and given that Democrats, regrettably, have had some success in trying to paint Republicans as anti-Black, it may make it more difficult to reject a Black jurist.” I find her comments unfortunate, not only because she is a woman, but because just last year she voted to support Jackson’s nomination to the DC Circuit.

Let’s put this into context: Donald Trump was the first Republican president since Nixon not to put a Black jurist on the US Court of Appeals. Trump and his Republican Senate allies placed over 200 judges on the bench in four years, including three on the Supreme Court. These judges were overwhelmingly White, male and conservative. Nine of them were rated as “unqualified” by the American Bar Association. But that did not matter to Trump and McConnell, who was Senate majority leader at that time. They forged ahead, with then-Judiciary Chairman Lindsay Graham (SC) leading the way.

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In September 2020, I penned a piece here in The Washington Post titled, “Republicans grab a Supreme Court seat, denying Black women their turn.” It was in response to Republicans, who at the time controlled the Senate, announcing they would vote to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died less than two months before the 2020 presidential election. Trump even promised to appoint a woman and nominated US Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett (not only did Republicans not complain about quotas, they highlighted her gender and touted the fact that she had seven children.) Four years earlier, McConnell had refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, citing the Senate’s practice of not allowing a floor vote of federal judicial nominees during an election year. Had Senate Republicans honored that rule in 2020, Biden would have gotten the chance to fill the vacancy.

Biden is getting his chance now, and he is using it to make a historic choice. It’s no different than former president Ronald Reagan’s pledge that the time had come for a female lawyer to take her place in history. I remember being a freshman in high school in 1981, when Reagan named O’Connor to the Court. It was exciting. Now, here I am in my 50s, and I am ecstatic that Jackson is someone who looks like me, has life experiences similar to mine and, most of all, brings a different lens by which to process the complex issues that she will be presented with on the court.


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