After a dizzying array of obnoxious questioning from Republican senators over the three long days of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings, it was certainly possible to lose the forest for the trees. Upon her ascension to the Supreme Court, Jackson will shatter multiple glass ceilings as the first Black woman justice and first former public defender justice. Republicans made lots of noise in the meantime, though, grilling Jackson about child porn sentences, critical race theory, ideal police staffing strategies, and cartoon children’s books—basically, anything but Jackson herself.
An exchange with California Democratic Senator Alex Padilla on Wednesday evening provided a healthy reality check. In response to Padilla’s question about what advice she’d give to young people of color who aspire to her accomplishments, Jackson recalled the difficulties she faced in feeling like an outsider during her time at Harvard. “The first semester I was really homesick. I was really questioning: Do I belong here? Can I make it in this environment?” she remembered.
One night, she said, a Black woman she didn’t know seemed to sense that she was having trouble, and offered a single bit of advice as they passed one another on the sidewalk: “Persevere.” Choking up, Jackson told Padilla she’d tell the same thing to young people experiencing the same doubts. “I would want them to know they can do and be anything,” she said. “I would tell them to persevere.”
As Republicans’ frustration gave way to resignation on Wednesday, the proceedings started to take on an air of celebration among the Democrats. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker promised to “rejoice” at her confirmation, and called Jackson a “harbinger of hope.” Padilla made sure to remind his colleagues of the historic nature of the proceedings, running through her credentials one last time, point by point. Recalling their shared experiences with skeptical high school counselors, he particularly congratulated Jackson for the tenacity required to overcome the obstacles of systemic discrimination as a Black woman achieving unprecedented success in the legal profession.
“I know that you, too, have been doubted on your way to the seat that you find yourself in today,” he said. “People of color who have the audacity to be the first have to be twice as good for half the respect.”
The performances of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republicans ably demonstrated the truth of Padilla’s words about the disrespect that those who dare to be “the first” face. On the precipice of making history, Jackson, a twice-confirmed federal judge endorsed by retired colleagues, prosecutors, crime victims, and even the Fraternal Order of Police, still had to endure hours of disrespectful interrogation that implied she disregards the severity of child pornography. Jackson did indeed receive half the respect she deserved. But that will be irrelevant when the Senate confirms her to the Supreme Court.