NORFOLK, VA — On April 7, 2022, shockwaves were sent through the legal world when a bipartisan group of Senators voted to confirm the nomination of Honorable Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to become the 116th Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Jackson’s nomination marks the first time an African American woman has been nominated and confirmed to the highest court.
Norfolk State University’s faculty, staff and students join the growing applause for the monumental accomplishment and reflect on how Jackson’s appointment will affect the face of the criminal justice system moving forward. Dr. Carlene Turner, chair of the Sociology department at Norfolk State University, recalls how she felt when the news broke about Jackson’s confirmation.
“From a personal standpoint, [it was] flatly jubilation. I was happy that she was confirmed. I didn’t doubt that she would be confirmed because she is supremely qualified, not just in terms of her education but her experience and she rivals everyone in modern history that has been nominated for the position and confirmed,” Turner said.
Jackson is a product of a public school teacher turned administrator. She attended Harvard University and Harvard Law School, where she was the editor of the Harvard Law Review. In addition to her extensive educational background, Jackson has professional experience serving as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She also has experience as a public defender and a Supreme Court Clerk for Justice Steven Breyer, the same Supreme Court Justice whose seat Jackson will be taking.
Jackson joins justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in the minority as the conservative justices retain control of the Supreme Court. Turner expresses her hope that the judicial process continues to be fair for all.
“We would hope that when a case eventually gets to the Supreme Court that people will be fair and judge it as closely to the living Constitution [as possible]. Just be fair to everyone; I don’t think that we were getting there with some of the more controversial cases.”
Turner is a sociologist by training and is already seeing some of the sociological effects of Judge Jackson’s appointment on Norfolk State’s campus.
“Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s parents were both HBCU graduates. Her story can impact so many people, it would be amazing,” she said.
While the history of Jackson’s nomination took a front-row seat throughout the confirmation hearings, several factors of her background attempted to take center stage, including her connection to law enforcement. Dr. Austin Ashe, an assistant professor in Norfolk State’s Sociology department, believes that we will have to wait and see how much her connection to law enforcement will play into her decision-making while on the bench.
“We’re adding another dimension as far as a descriptive quality. Now the assumption is she’s black, she’s a woman, and she has family members who were in law enforcement but also family members who have suffered as it relates to the criminal justice system. So now, we’re trying to do a calculation of what that means in terms of producing her kinds of decision making,” he said.
Jackson received a glowing recommendation from the Fraternal Order of Police that said in part, “we are reassured that, should she be confirmed, she would approach her future cases with an open mind and treat issues related to law enforcement fairly justly.”
Ashe is optimistic about the future of the criminal justice system but does not believe that it is solely the task of Jackson to inspire the next generation.
“My hope is that we don’t expect that this is just Justice Brown’s responsibility and that all of us continue to do the work in all of our particular areas to revise the entire system so that law schools are more representative,” he said. “But that’s the unfortunate thing about being the first. There’s so much weight and burden and expectation that you are supposed to transform the entire thing and I don’t think that alone is her responsibility.”
Justice Stephen Breyer is slated to complete the 2021-2022 Supreme Court on Oct. 2, 2022, after which Jackson will succeed him and take his seat on the bench.