Ketanji Brown Jackson — Lady Justice is a Woman

By March 31, 2022News

As the first Black woman nominated to the bench and first federal public defender with significant experience representing socially unpopular criminal defendants, Jackson brings fresh perspective: Justice is not always black or white, but lies somewhere more complex. Jackson considers shades of light and darkness when approaching conflict, whether in the form of antagonistic people or unspeakable crimes brought before her in a court of law.

She reinforced this skill as a public defender. Jackson’s experience as a public defender gives her crucial insight into the criminal justice system’s direct impacts on defendants and spurs overdue conversation about sentencing guidelines for certain crimes.

“You cannot have the perspective of what it means to have somebody who is the most vulnerable … to stand next to that person and fight for them and advocate for fairness and appropriate treatment in the system — you can’t understand what that means unless you have done it,” said Alice Fontier, a public defender from NYC on Jackson’s nomination.

If confirmed, Jackson, in her own words, vows to be a “neutral arbiter,” a powerful thing for all sides especially if one day the balance shifts or criminal charges are brought to bear on any party one believes to be innocent. She categorizes herself as non-political. Sure, they all say that but her record bears it out. She is unpredictably independent, while promising to stay in her lane.

Judge Jackson also vows allegiance to originalism, which is a very conservative stance adhering to the Founding Fathers’ original text unless one is a textualist, in which case the document is considered a living Constitution with a lot of room for value judgments — and, say, your values differ from hers.

Safe. Without using the phrase “judicial philosophy,” Jackson explained hers, and it’s totally compatible with conservative originalism. “I do not believe that there is a living Constitution in the sense that it’s changing and it’s infused with my own policy perspective or the policy perspective of the day,” she said. She specifically endorsed originalism as it has been framed by conservatives in recent decades.

“When you are interpreting the Constitution, you’re looking at the text at the time of the founding and what the meaning was then as a constraint on my own authority,” Jackson said, adding, ”I apply that constraint.”

Let’s dig deeper: By her demeanor, character and record, whatever interpretation you hold, Judge Jackson has proven she is a nuanced judge. The word tetrachromat comes to mind, which is a person who sees more colors than the normal human eye. It means she sees horror more vividly, not less.

The American Bar Association (ABA) rated her as “well qualified” to serve on the US Supreme Court, its highest rating. The ABA’s Standing Committee was unanimous in evaluating her professional qualifications.

With deftness, she pushed back against allegations of being dangerously soft on crime, passionate to clarify her sentencing decisions as a D.C. federal district court judge. “As a mother and a judge who has had to deal with these cases, I was thinking that nothing could be further from the truth,” she said.

Public defenders rarely make it to the federal bench, so it is epic that Jackson is about to be confirmed to the highest court. Oh yes, and she’s Black. Remember, a public defender represents socially unpopular people no one else rushes to defend. In accordance with the Constitution’s promise that every man and woman is entitled to fair legal representation, she was assigned to Gitmo detainees who alleged they were being tortured in the Cuban prison after 9/11.

She is accused of being soft on crime. But accusers could perhaps place a great deal of stock in Jackson’s commitment to view an issue from 100 angles. After all, isn’t justice somewhat subjective to a spectator depending on a prior investment in the defendant’s guilt or innocence? She promises to seriously consider every view before deciding which one is true, understanding better than most that people are flawed and justice is found by weighing good and evil on scales.

Weeks ago when she was prepping for her confirmation hearing, Jackson participated in mock trials where the hardest, cruelest indignations were hurled her way. Did they prepare her? Well, they’re not called “murder boards” for nothing.