The Ketanji Brown Jackson Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings: Brief Dynamics

With the hearings on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court complete and confirmation pretty much in the bag now that Sen. Joe Manchin (sometimes D-WV) has expressed support, it might be safe to make a two or three points.

Definitely a BFD. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court is a big effing deal. It’s a big deal to Judge Jackson for breaking another ceiling for black women, a big deal for black women, a big deal for the Court to have a more dynamic figure on the liberal side, and a big deal for American national identity. Since the Civil Rights Era, the United States has changed from what historians call a White Republic or White Man’s Republic to a Multicultural, Socially Liberal Nation. At a time when black women have become more of a force than ever, Judge Jackson’s nomination represents both 70 years worth of progress and the expectation that continuing to fight will bring about real change.

Intensified Backlash. But it’s been the case since Barack Obama’s election as the first black president that progress has brought about intensified backlash. Judiciary Committee hearings were dominated by the vicious and racist smearing of Judge Jackson’s perfectly ordinary sentencing in pedophilia cases by Ted Cruz (Insurrection R-TX), Josh Hawley (Insurrection R-MO), and Lindsey Graham (Toady R-SC). But as Amanda Marcotte discusses in Salon, Republican senators also spelled out a radically conservative agenda for the current 6-3 conservative Court majority. Once the Court wipes out Roe v Wade as expected, conservatives will move to overturning the Griswold v CT (1965) decision establishing a Constitutional right to privacy in relation to contraception for married couples. Given that the Obergefell decision that established a right to gay marriage was based on the right of privacy, conservatives would expect to overturn that as well. Just as the U.S. has coalesced into a socially liberal nation with large majorities in favor of abortion rights, contraception, and the right to gay marriage, conservative politicians and their religious right constituencies want to establish an extensive system of sexual coercion.

A Fragility. But white conservatives are not the only constituency interested in what Elizabeth Warren calls “Big Structural Change.” Since Justice Amy Barrett’s appointment establishing the 6-3 conservative Court majority, there has been enough buzz among Democrats about “expanding the Court” that Ted Cruz and other Republicans made it a campaign theme in the 2020 election. That buzz is now loud enough that Mitch McConnell (Establishment R-KY) made it his primary criteria for announcing his upcoming “No” vote on Judge Jackson’s nomination. Conservative politics has a frantic “we must turn back the clock now while we still have a chance” character that also reveals the fragile character of their position. As American society becomes more multicultural, black women like Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson can be recognized for having “amazing American stories” (paraphrasing Ben Sasse) while white conservatism is mostly about preventing American stories from happening. It’s not a solid position.

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