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U.S. President Joe Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 25. If confirmed, Jackson will be the first Black woman to sit on the nation’s highest court. The Michigan Daily sat down with University of Michigan experts and students to discuss the significance of Jackson’s nomination and last week’s confirmation hearings.

Campus reaction to Jackson’s nomination

Law Students Nia Vogel and ​​Dashaya Foreman are the managing editor and editor-in-chief, respectively, of the Michigan Law Review and are the first pair of Black women to lead the law journal in its 121-year history. They are also members of the Michigan Black Law Student Association. In an interview with the Daily, Foreman said she felt encouraged to see someone who shares her identity nominated to the Supreme Court.

“I’m taking a lot of pride in this moment,” Foreman said. “Now being in law school and seeing her be nominated, and hopefully (being) confirmed very shortly, (she is) very inspiring for me. I think it’s long overdue, but I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction for students of Color who are interested in being legal advocates.”

Jackson’s qualifications for the associate Supreme Court justice position ––  which include a degree from Harvard Law, a federal courtship position and a history of public service, as well as her background having grown up in a major city and attended a public high school — would make her a historic addition to the Court. Jackson also served as a federal public defender from 2005-2007. During that time, she represented four Guantánamo Bay detainees following the landmark 2004 Supreme Court decision that detainees in the military prison could challenge their detentions in federal court. If confirmed, she would be the first former public defender to serve on the Supreme Court. Jackson would also join Justices Samuel A. Alito and Elena Kagan as the only Supreme Court justices to have graduated from a public high school.

Vogel reiterated Foreman’s excitement at the prospect of Jackson’s appointment. As someone who is an advocate for criminal justice reform, Vogel said she is inspired by Judge Jackson’s background in criminal defense.

“Symbolically, (Jackson’s nomination) definitely shows Black women … that they are accepted and can work towards their goals, no matter what the capacity is,” Vogel said. “It’s really great seeing someone coming from a criminal defense background on the Supreme Court … and bringing that perspective to the criminal justice cases that the court will see.”

Law professor Richard D. Friedman specializes in constitutional law and the U.S. Supreme Court at U-M Law School. Friedman has argued two cases before the Court, Briscoe v. Virginia (2004) and Hammon v. Indiana (2006). Friedman spoke with The Daily about Jackson’s nomination and reflected on her four days of testimony in front of the Senate. Though Jackson’s work as a former public defender is admirable, Friedman said, it likely would not have much of an impact on her decisions as a Supreme Court justice. 

“I wouldn’t overplay the significance of (Jackson’s public defense background),” Friedman said. “When (judges) take on the judicial role, they realize that they’re no longer advocates — they’re judges. Her job on the Court will not be to be the defendant’s representative on the Court, it’s to be a judge … I would guess that she’ll be somewhat readier than most of the other (justices) to recognize defendants’ rights …  But we’ll see over time.”

LSA junior Julia Schettenhelm, communications director of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, wrote in an email to The Daily that the organization supports Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

“She has demonstrated time and time again that she is a qualified candidate who is worthy of a position on the highest court in our country,” Schettenhelm wrote. “We admire the strength she has shown during this process and her commitment to maintaining the integrity of the Court.”

LSA junior Ryan Fisher, chairman of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, wrote in a message to the Daily that his organization does not support Jackson’s confirmation. Fisher referenced Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., asking Jackson to provide a definition for the word ‘woman’ during the second day of confirmation hearings, to which Jackson replied she is not a biologist. He said this was part of what led to College Republicans’ failure to endorse.

“We were disappointed that a historic nominee — the first Black woman nominated to the Court — was unable to define a key part of that identity: woman,” Fisher wrote. “Past Supreme Court trailblazers: Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O’Connor and Sonia Sotomayor — were confirmed with large majorities; we do not believe that Jackson will be able to do the same.”

Experts on Jackson’s nomination, confirmation hearings

During last week’s confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate, Jackson defended her record, pushing back against scrutiny from Republican senators on critical race theory, affirmative action and Jackson’s sentencing record as a judge. On the third day of the hearings, Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, brought out the children’s book “Antiracist Baby,” a book on the suggested anti-racist resources reading list for Georgetown Day School, a private school in Washington, D.C. where Jackson sits on the board, and asked Jackson whether she thinks babies are racist. Cruz and other Republican senators also raised concerns about Jackson’s sentencing decisions in cases involving child pornography.

Friedman weighed in on the topics Republican lawmakers chose to emphasize during Jackson’s hearings, particularly the repeated mentions of critical race theory and Jackson’s sentencing record in the child pornography cases.

“Jackson is a Black woman, and maybe Republican senators thought that therefore, it was going to be easier to tag (critical race theory) on her,” Friedman said. “They (also) tried to tag her as soft on crime, and they picked on some sentences for child pornography. … I gather (those) sentences were within the ballpark that plenty of other judges have engaged in … In my view, it was stuff that had very little to do with her qualifications to be a Supreme Court justice.”

Foreman said she thought the treatment Jackson received during the confirmation hearings was discouraging, especially given the marginalization Black women face in the U.S.

“During the confirmation hearings, the significance of this moment (for Black women), (has) been overshadowed by a lot of the coded language that’s been both racialized and gendered that’s been directed towards Judge Brown Jackson,” Foreman said. “I think she’s handled it with such poise and I commend her for her strength.”

Michael Traugott, a political science professor at the University, spoke with The Daily about the trend toward politicizing Supreme Court nomination hearings — depending on the president’s political party — in recent years. Traugott attributed the rise in political polarization throughout the nomination process to increasing partisanship in the U.S. Congress throughout the past decade.

“This means increased party voting (on nominees) and less willingness to compromise,” Traugott said. “So we saw that in the (recent) hearings, but that was further exacerbated by the hearings held for the nominees of Donald Trump … the voting patterns have become increasingly politicized with very few people crossing over to support the nominee of a president who was of the other party.”

Friedman attributed the increasingly polarized nature of Supreme Court appointments to the confirmation hearings being televised and an increase in the general public’s perceived relevance of the Supreme Court. He said the process of Supreme Court appointments was much less contentious up until the mid-20th century.

“It used to be a pretty routine and non-controversial process, for the most part,” Friedman said. “In recent years, it’s become highly contentious over … the last several decades. In part, that’s because there are now extensive hearings, and they’re televised, so it’s become sort of a political show for TV. In part, I think it’s because the Supreme Court is seen as playing a larger role in American life.”

Friedman said recent justice nominations have focused more on the political ideology of the nominees. For instance, Friedman said Republican presidents in the past few decades have particularly considered the stances that potential nominees have on abortion.

“Presidents have tended more to make ideologically-careful picks,” Friedman said. “That is, a Republican president is going to pick somebody who is considered quite conservative … The issue that’s dominated for a long time is abortion. In recent years, (presidents are) going to pick somebody who they believe will vote to limit, or overturn, Roe v. Wade.” 

Looking forward to the 2022 and 2024 election cycles

Jackson’s confirmation hearings precede the upcoming U.S. midterm elections, which will take place on Nov. 8, 2022. All 435 House of Representatives seats and 35 of the 100 Senate seats will be up for election this fall.

Traugott said the questions Jackson was asked at her confirmation hearings likely point to some of the main issues the upcoming midterm campaigns will tackle. He said certain Republican senators who are not up for reelection until 2024 may be thinking about their future political campaigns and careers.

“There’s some posturing that took place with regard to establishing a position among the Republican electorate and focusing on particular cultural wedge issues that they might want to emphasize during their campaigns,” Traugott said. “I imagine that we will see quite a few ads in the fall campaign based upon these hearings, her nomination and elevation to the court. Negative ads from Republicans about … her views on a variety of issues would be direct appeals to a very conservative Republican base.”

To be appointed to the Supreme Court, Jackson needs a majority vote in the Senate. Traugott said Jackson will likely be confirmed with a split vote between Democratic and Republican senators. Since the Senate is currently split 50-50, Traugott predicted that Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the deciding Democratic vote in Jackson’s favor.

Though certain Republican Senators supported her confirmation to the D.C. Circuit Court in 2021, Traugott said he believed they are not likely to vote in favor of her nomination to the Supreme Court this time around.

“She has received Republican votes in the past, but it seems pretty clear from the questioning, for example, that Lindsey Graham who voted for her in the past for other offices (the D.C. Circuit Court), is not going to vote for her this time,” Traugott said.

On Wednesday, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she will vote in favor of Jackson’s confirmation. 

Vogel said she hopes Jackson sticks to her ideals when serving as a justice and is excited to see what Jackson’s unique background and qualifications will bring to the Court.

“I think bringing her perspective to the court will be fantastic,” Vogel said. “I think even to the extent that she’s not in the majority for some decisions, I’m really looking forward to seeing some of her dissents and how strong they will be. … I do hope that she is given the respect she deserves by other lawmakers and politicians in the country.”

Foreman said she hopes Jackson’s confirmation will inspire other people of Color in the legal field to continue pursuing their goals — potentially all the way to the highest court in the U.S. 

“Only 5% of lawyers in this country are African American,” Foreman said. “At times, it definitely feels like an uphill battle. … This moment will be important for Judge Brown Jackson, but I’m hoping it’s also important for aspiring law students, current law students and current lawyers of Color who feel like they’re not recognized, who feel like they have to live in the shadows, who feel like they have to navigate two different worlds. … I hope that it inspires them to keep going.”

Daily Staff Reporters Irena Li and Vanessa Kiefer can be reached at and