Biden’s nomination of a Black woman to high court is significant, even if political, says Tulane expert

Biden’s nomination of a Black woman to high court is significant, even if political, says Tulane expert Biden’s nomination of a Black woman to high court is significant, even if political, says Tulane expert

February 22, 20222 min read

President Joe Biden has chosen Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circruit as his choice for the next U.S. Supreme Court justice. If confirmed, she will become the first Black woman on the nation's highest court.

Professor Nancy Maveety, a Supreme Court expert and chair of the Political Science Department at Tulane University, said Biden’s nomination of a Black woman to the high court is significant in two ways.

“First, it will represent an appointment breaking another barrier based on race and gender, further diversifying the High Bench so that it ‘looks like America,’ ” said Maveety, author of Picking Judges, a book that examines the dynamics of screening and choosing judicial nominees and the confirmation process.

Andrea Boyles, a Tulane sociologist, said the nomination of a Black woman to the Supreme Court is long overdue. "Black women in America have long been consistent, boots-on-the-ground galvanizers for all-things-civil and human rights," she said. "And it is past time to have that rich legacy recognized in every place, including the upper echelons of the federal government."

The nomination of Jackson also continues a long practice of presidents making appointments to represent certain demographic interests—whether those be regional, religious or ethnic—as well as to reflect or cultivate the power of certain constituencies in the party’s electoral base, Maveety said.

She likened the move to President Lyndon Johnson’s appointment of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice, and the importance of Black voters to the Democratic Party’s electoral success. President Ronald Reagan’s appointment of the first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, addressed the Republican party’s concerns about the gender gap in voting, Maveety said.

As for the confirmation process, Maveety said it will be partisan and polarized, though not as intense as recent confirmations. “Because Biden’s nominee will presumably replace one liberal-voting justice with another and given that the Court’s current ‘liberal bloc’ is also a minority, the political stakes of this appointment are much lower than in the case of a swing seat.”

Boyles called Jackson's credentials impeccable and worthy of celebration but said her advancement should not be treated as tokenism.

"The Black community will be watching her confirmation and all actors involved intently, for what must be a protected, well-respected, fair and equitable process," Boyles said.

Connect with:
  • Nancy Maveety
    Nancy Maveety Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science

    U.S. Supreme Court studies, constitutional law, judicial decision making and comparative judicial politics

  • Andrea S. Boyles
    Andrea S. Boyles Associate Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies

    Dr. Boyles is an expert in race and social justice; Black citizen-police conflict; neighborhood disorder/crime; community; and resistance.

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