Black women activists prepare to rally for Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden’s historic Supreme Court pick

WASHINGTON – Leaders of Black women’s groups are bracing for a possible fight over President Joe Biden’s historic pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, but vow to rally around Ketanji Brown Jackson and press the Senate to confirm her nomination.

“We are prepared to make sure that she gets a fair and a just opportunity to get on that court,’’ said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter. "This should be a slam dunk. It is a clear and solid choice.’’

Some groups led by Black women are gearing up to support Jackson’s nomination, including plans to rally outside the Supreme Court, launch social media campaigns and lobby senators with visits and calls to their offices. A group of Black women leaders and their allies will launch a call-to-action campaign next week during Women’s History Month.

The push will also be a major focus of a summit hosted next month by the Black Women’s Roundtable, a national coalition of civic engagement groups. 

More:Jackson says she's 'humbled' by historic nomination to Supreme Court as focus shifts to Senate

Meanwhile, groups are gathering virtually and in other spaces, including in front of the Supreme Court, “not only to celebrate, but also to call to action about this historic moment,” said Glynda Carr, president of Higher Heights for America, which supports Black female candidates and more Black political involvement.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is President Joe Biden's nominee for associate justice of the Supreme Court.

The power of Black women organizing 

Biden's selection of Jackson comes exactly two years after Biden, as a candidate for president, said he would nominate a Black woman to the high court during a debate just before the South Carolina primary in February 2020. Biden won that primary in large part because of Black support and it delivered momentum that carried him to the White House. 

During the presidential race, groups led by Black women launched massive get-out-the-vote campaigns in key battleground states.

Black women have been credited with helping Biden win. They also pressed Biden to select a Black woman as his running mate and rallied around then-Sen. Kamala Harris when Biden chose her.

They continued to push Biden to nominate a Black woman for the Supreme Court.

“Democracy doesn’t begin and end on Election Day,'' Carr said.

More:Biden formally introduces 'truly humbled' Ketanji Brown Jackson as Supreme Court pick

In the weeks leading up to Friday’s announcement of Jackson, activists championed the effort to nominate a Black woman, praising all the potential nominees.

In January, more than 100 prominent Black women wrote Biden thanking him for making it clear he would honor his pledge.

Earlier this month a group of 14 Black congresswomen, led by Rep Cori Bush, D-Mo., also praised Biden for delivering on his promise. 

Other top contenders included Leondra Kruger, a California Supreme Court Associate Justice, and U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs of South Carolina. 

Biden touted Jackson's credentials Friday when he announced her nomination at the White House. 

"For too long, our government, our courts, haven't looked like America,'' he said. "I believe it's time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications." 

If confirmed, Jackson, a 51-year-old federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., would replace retiring Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.

Jackson, a Harvard Law graduate, has already won Senate confirmation three times, most recently last summer when Biden named her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

More:Black congresswomen praise Biden for keeping Supreme Court pledge amid conservative backlash

From left, J. Michelle Childs, Leondra Kruger and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Attacks against Jackson have already started 

Prior to Biden announcing Jackson as his nominee, some Republican lawmakers had criticized him for engaging in a “racial quota” system.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who voted to confirm Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, criticized Biden Friday for selecting her.

“If media reports are accurate, and Judge Jackson has been chosen as the Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Breyer, it means the radical Left has won President Biden over yet again,” he tweeted Friday.

More:Supreme Court fight shows why Americans have such a hard time talking about equity for Black women

Activists said Friday they don’t need to defend Jackson’s record, contending she is more than qualified.

“There's no justification that the Republicans would have around criticizing her other than being racist and irrational because by their own standard this is someone that they've confirmed, not once, not twice, but three times,” Brown said.

Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People, an advocacy group for women of color in politics, said attention now needs to shift to touting Jackson's record. 

"It's important to focus on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's impeccable credentials, qualifications, experience and readiness for the Supreme Court, to not allow detractors to attack her and dismiss her in any way,” Allison said.

Rev. Rhonda Thomas, executive director for Faith in Florida and a member of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative, said Black women’s organizations will not be deterred by attacks against Jackson.  

“People such as Lindsey Graham and others [do]  not surprise us at all. It’s what they do,” said Thomas. “Nor do they deter us from doing what we do. In fact, it also empowers us to do more to change the narrative of who we are.”

Earlier this month, Thomas wrote an op-ed about the historic nature of Biden’s nominee decision.

“As Black women we've always had to work so hard at everything we've done,'' she said. "Many times we've been overlooked and never given the credit that we deserve. So this was a highlight for us overall that she's been recognized just for the great work that she's done. And that she deserves this moment.”

More:For Black women judges like Jackson, blazing a trail has meant scrutiny, assumptions

Why the confirmation could get ugly 

Still, activists said they expect unfair attacks against Jackson because she is a woman and particularly a Black woman.

They point to attacks against other Black women, including Kristen Clarke, who was eventually confirmed last year as assistant attorney general for civil rights at the Department of Justice, and the protracted battle over former Attorney General Loretta Lynch's confirmation in 2015.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, says the Biden administration needs to undo “extensive damage” in enforcing civil rights laws.

They also noted the Republicans' successful opposition to former President Bill Clinton's assistant attorney general nominee, Lani Guinier, in 1993.

Republicans have been consistent in their attacks, including some aimed at Biden's potential nominees, Brown said.

“We've already seen it,’’ she said. “There may be some attacks on her just because of who she is, just because of the audacity of a Black woman to be nominated to the highest court.’’

Carr called the environment “politically toxic,'' but expects Jackson to have broad support and the nomination process to be transparent and completed in a reasonable time.

Activists said they will also monitor media coverage of the nominee, watching for racism and sexism.

LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, sings at an event Jun 25, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia hosted by the organization to mark the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. The advocacy group and others are calling on Congress to pass federal voting rights legislation.

“It will be a pleasant surprise if we don't have to fight hard, but we're not leaving anything to chance,” said  Melanie Campbell, convener of the Black Women's Roundtable and president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

Wendy Smooth, associate professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the Ohio State University, said there’s a history of questioning the preparedness and credentialing of Black women whether in business, health or higher education.

“It is clear that you are being read as a body out of place,” Smooth said.

Yet, she said, Black women are one of the most educated groups in society.

Smooth said she understands Black women activists bracing for a fight because of that history and their experiences.

She said it's also important “to take this as a moment of opportunity to educate the nation around the need to move away from knee-jerk reactions to the amazing credentials of African American women."

Supreme Court confirmation:How the process for Ketanji Brown Jackson will unfold in the Senate

'Eyes focused on the prize'

Activists and experts said Jackson’s nomination could be a teaching moment for the country.

Smooth noted the “deep bench’’ of possible Black women nominees Biden could have chosen. She said the process could open up opportunities for more Black women to be considered for judgeships on lower courts and other posts in the judicial system.

“It gives us a different look on the potentials for the judiciary into the future,’’ Smooth said. “It's very exciting.”

Britt White, decarceration director for LIVE FREE, an organization dedicated to reducing gun violence and mass incarceration, said public education around Jackson’s role as a public defender is important to highlight during the confirmation process.

White said she won't let attacks from lawmakers labeling Jackson as a radical leftist be a distraction.

“I understand that people will reduce this moment to a narrative that is harmful, but...  we can't let that distract us from what this opportunity means to our community,” White said. “So I choose to keep my eyes focused on the prize and the end goal and that’s her being confirmed." 

Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, leads a "Freedom Walk" in Washington on Nov. 16 to urge support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Jackson's nomination matters to 'all Americans'  

Black women activists said the historic moment should be appreciated not only by African Americans, but all Americans.

“This historic moment should be a place of excitement and pride for all Americans,’’ Carr said. “But particularly for African Americans and Black women this is an opportunity to celebrate.”

They noted it has been 50 years since Shirley Chisholm made history as the first Black woman to run for president. But there has never been a Black woman elected governor and there are no Black women in the U.S. Senate. Only two, including Harris, have served in the chamber.

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"This is the beginning of a new era..., " said Brown. "We're not going to overlook the fact that this is a woman with locs. This is a woman with brown skin.'' 

If Jackson is confirmed, activists said, her position on the nation's highest court could inspire other Black women. 

“In this moment we are no longer invisible on the U.S Supreme Court,’’ said Campbell of the Black Women's Roundtable. “We're not there yet. She’s got to get confirmed. But we're one step closer and that's good for this country. That's good for this democracy.”

Contributing: John Fritze