What Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson means for the country

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The first thing to watch out for are his dissents.

“Dissents are extremely important because they remind the public and the court that there is an alternative approach,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “They are sometimes guidance positions for future decision-making.”

Taken together, Jackson’s track record as the first black woman and first former public defender to serve on the Supreme Court means she will bring a fresh perspective to judicial opinions, and some legal experts suggest it could even help her influence these partner’work.

University of Georgia law professor Melissa Redmon says bringing a defense attorney’s lens to the deliberations can help reframe how other judges view certain cases, especially , she says, criminal cases in which legal disputes over unlawful searches and seizures, protections against self-incrimination and other rights of the accused are called into question.

“Typically, in criminal cases, you’re talking about Fourth, Fifth, Sixth Amendment rights, 14th Amendment rights,” Redmon says. With Jackson, “you have someone who knows that intimately.”

Although she does not influence the final decisions rendered by the court, Jackson can make her point in dissents that could have greater influence in future cases or with other branches.

Graves points to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who told The New Republic in 2014, “My dissenting opinions, like my memoirs, are meant to persuade. And sometimes you have to be forceful to say how wrong the court’s decision is. »

When Ginsberg opposed Ledbetter c. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in 2007, in which Lilly Ledbetter accused her employer, Goodyear, of paying her less because of her gender, Ginsberg wrote in a minority opinion that it was up to lawmakers to change the injustice of gender pay discrimination. In 2009, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and it was the first bill former President Barack Obama signed into law.

Verna L. Williams, dean of the University of Cincinnati Law School, adds that Supreme Court dissents can also give litigants clues about how to argue a similar case down the line. “Sometimes in dissent you can pick up a nugget,” says Williams, who served as lead counsel and successfully argued Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education in 1999, which established that school boards can be held liable for not intervening in cases of sexual harassment between students in certain cases.

Jackson will join Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor on the liberal side of the court, who also stand out for their dissents. Williams fears their identity could lead to their dismissal by some. “There is the danger that their voices will be further marginalized, because, well, they are minority liberal women,” she says. For the first time, the entire Liberal wing of the bench will be made up of women, including two women of color.

But experts I spoke with also suggested that Jackson’s views will have a big impact not just as the first and only black woman on the court, but as one of two black judges serving at the same time. for the first time.

In his three decades on the court, Justice Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving current judge, has become not only a trusted conservative vote, but an icon to many Republicans for his views on race.

When Jackson joins him, Graves says, “It means there will be more of a perspective around Blackness on the court.”

While legal experts believe Jackson can have significant impacts on the court even in the minority, it’s less clear whether his confirmation will be enough to save the Democratic Party’s governing majority this fall.

In January, at a White House ceremony announcing Stephen Breyer’s retirement from the bench after 28 years, President Joe Biden reiterated a promise he made during the campaign trail to appoint a black woman to the Court. supreme if he had the chance. “It’s long overdue, in my opinion,” he said. The pledge was originally made as his 2020 presidential campaign was in freefall and needed a shock. Some political analysts see parallels between then and the current timing of his presidency, with his approval ratings hovering around 40% in most national polls and worries that Democrats could lose the House and Senate midterm. of this year.

Questions remain as to whether delivering on that campaign promise will be enough to galvanize the Democratic base, especially black voters, who point to the party missing important agenda items like police reform and the new federal protections of the right to vote.

“At the end of the day, it’s going to be comforting to know that there is a [Justice] Jackson to the Supreme Court. But black communities aren’t stupid,” says Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. “It’s not something black voters are going to feel in their pockets or see directly in their communities. And that’s really what’s going to get people going to the polls,” says Garza, who now runs Black to the Future Action Fund, which aims to empower black communities in politics.

For Republicans, Jackson’s confirmation could even add to the GOP’s momentum heading into the midterms this fall. “I think for Republican voters,” said Paris Dennard, spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, “they’re going to look at this and be reminded of the fact that elections have consequences.”

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