As a Black woman lawyer, a Harvard Law School alum, and the mother of two daughters currently studying at Columbia Law School to join a very exclusive sorority of justice fighters, I am beyond proud of the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to our nation's highest court. What a fitting way to end Black History Month—bearing witness to history in the making.
It is almost impossible to convey how challenging it is to become a lawyer as a Black woman. Although African-American women are the most educated demographic in the country, we face tremendous barriers entering professions that have been traditionally dominated by white men, including the legal and medical professions— which is why less than two percent of all lawyers and just three percent of physicians in this country are Black women. Black women attorneys make up less than one percent of partners at U.S. law firms.
The select few of us who manage to break into these highly coveted professions face tremendous pay disparities. Black women continue to make less than seventy-five cents for every dollar earned by white men (and female physicians, over the course of their careers, make $2 million less than male physicians.)
The data offers just a glimpse of the story of what Brown Jackson has achieved in earning the nomination to the Supreme Court, a 233-year-old institution which has had only two Black justices, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, in its history, and has had only one woman of color, Sonia Sotomayor, who was appointed to the court in 2009.
Brown Jackson's stellar qualifications include two-and-a-half years of experience as a federal public defender, eight years as a D.C. trial court judge, and since her appointment by President Joe Biden last year last year, time on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She also worked in private law firms and was vice chair of the United States Sentencing Commission from 2010 to 2014. A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law, where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, she clerked for three judges, including Justice Stephen Breyer, who she is poised to succeed. She will bring more judicial experience to the court than Thomas, Roberts, Kagan and Barret did combined.
Of course, even as we celebrate the announcement of Brown Jackson's nomination, we must brace ourselves for the inevitable tantrums and hysteria from some on the right, who were crying "affirmative action" before her name was even announced. We can expect petty displays of racist aggression on the floor of the Senate Chamber, such as deliberate mispronunciations of Brown Jackson's name, bogus attacks on her credentials and her judicial record.
Character attacks and distortions are nothing new to us as Black women. We have long been
demeaned and depicted in the media as “welfare queens,” “baby mamas,” and “angry Black women.” Despite these hurtful and offensive attacks, we have persevered and earned a seat at the table in boardrooms, C suites and even the White House. Brown Jackson’s seat on the highest court in the land is yet another testament to Black women’s talents and resolve.
We must fortify our armor and ready ourselves to tune out the noise. The very same people who did not utter a word of protest when former President Trump announced that he would nominate a woman for the court had a meltdown about "racial litmus tests" when President Biden said that he would keep his promise to nominate a Black woman to the court.
Why have the uber-qualified Black women who were discussed as candidates for the nomination been attacked and labeled “affirmative action” candidates? The answer is clear: fear, ignorance, and straight-up racism!
Their very reaction demonstrates that representation matters as much as it ever has, and having the voice, perspective, and intellect of this accomplished Black woman on the Court will have a profound impact on some of the most important social issues of the day, including abortion rights, affirmative action and gun control.
We are living in a time when more Black women have been appointed to federal appellate courts by our current president than by any U.S. President in history. This latest and most historic nomination sends a powerful message to Black girls and women that they too can achieve at the highest level.
You can be assured that our pride outshines the bias Brown Jackson will face, and the petulant cries of bias from the right don't stand a chance against our cheers. We know enough about what it takes for one of our own to break through at the highest level that we drown out the cynics and critics with our collective shouts of HALLELUJAH!!!!! And we all say with one voice: Bravo, Sis. Job well done!
Areva Martin, Esq. is an award-winning attorney, CNN Legal Analyst, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author and talk and radio show host.