Opinion

Confirming Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court is a start

But bigger changes are needed to fix SCOTUS

Today marks the beginning of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation hearing for her nomination to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Jackson — an immensely qualified jurist with experience in both the private and public sectors, and on the federal bench — will be the first Black woman and former public defender to serve on the nation's highest court.

Jackson's historic confirmation hearing takes place at a critical time. In the past two decades, we have watched a conservative Supreme Court defy well-settled constitutional precedent, actively working to dismantle some of our most cherished rights and values. Jackson's confirmation will not change the balance of the court, but her confirmation hearing will provide senators with an opportunity to illuminate how the conservative supermajority has prevented attempts made by the federal government to check corporate abuse and rectify structural racism.

Today's supermajority conservative court has repeatedly overstepped its role as a neutral arbiter "calling balls and strikes" and has instead bent over backwards to protect corporate interests at the expense of the rest of us. Examples are rife — from Citizens United v. FEC, which has led to dark money dominating our political system, to Janus v. AFSCME, which has served a blow to public sector unions and collective bargaining efforts, to Michigan v. EPA, which has, in effect, placed industry profits on equal footing with protecting the environment.

These pro-corporate decisions were not made in a vacuum. Over the past two decades, the Roberts court has handed down a whole host of other decisions that have actively served to dismantle the legal architecture of racial and economic progress — by weakening the right to vote, stripping away worker protections, thwarting efforts to protect the environment, and restricting women's rights to bodily autonomy. Taken together, these decisions are a natural extension of the conservative movement's larger efforts to rig the economy for the few, at the expense of the many. In effect, the conservative majority has used the Supreme Court as a vehicle to carry out a broader, radical, far-right agenda.

There are a range of ways to prevent this conservative court from continuing to harm everyday Americans. President Biden has already made great advances by nominating and confirming new jurists with diverse backgrounds, unique perspectives, and demonstrated commitments to the principles of impartiality and equal justice, including the first Muslim American to serve as an Article III judge, the first openly gay woman to sit a on a federal appeals court, and dozens of women of color and a record number of public defenders to the federal bench.

There are also a range of possible reforms to consider, many of which have the potential to restore the public's faith in the judiciary by counteracting some of the harmful decisions handed down by the Supreme Court in recent decades. Changing the composition of the court, for example, could rebalance its makeup and help to distance it from its capture by special interests. 

In the meantime, however, as Jackson's confirmation hearing gets underway, senators have an important opportunity to tell the story of how this conservative Supreme Court is preventing us from meeting our collective needs — at a time when state legislatures across the country are waging a war on the right to vote, the teaching of American history, women's autonomy, and LGBTQ youth. Our courts should be protecting us from these attacks, rather than contributing to them. They should be upholding equal justice under the law, and respecting constitutional precedent.

Senators have an important role to play in ensuring that those who serve on the Supreme Court are meaningfully committed to principles of justice, judicial independence, and civil rights and liberties.  Jackson certainly meets these criteria, and her confirmation hearing will inevitably underscore the refreshing and crucial set of perspectives she will bring to the bench. But these hearings can — and should — also shine a spotlight on the harms the conservative supermajority has inflicted upon everyday Americans.

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