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Inclusion Matters: Ketanji Brown Jackson Confirmed to the Supreme Court
Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
With the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the next associate justice, the United States Supreme Court is now more reflective of the country for which it adjudicates. For 178 years, from the Court’s establishment in 1789 until 1967, when Thurgood Marshall was appointed as the first Black justice, the Court had been staffed exclusively by white men who were almost all Protestant.
In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman appointed to the most powerful Court in our nation. In 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first Jewish female justice and went on to become the longest-serving Jewish justice. In 2009, the Court received its first Latina justice when Sonia Sotomayor was appointed to the bench.
Now, 233 years since its creation, the United States Supreme Court has its first Black woman poised to take her seat on the bench after being confirmed on April 7, 2022. Adding to the historical symbolism, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation was announced by the President of the US Senate—Kamala Harris, the first female vice president, and also a woman of color.
The United States has always been a melting pot of people and cultures from many lands. Yet, many people have historically been shut out of power and decision-making in business and government. Over the years, companies have become more diverse in their employee composition and the ranks of those in power. Diversity in government’s highest positions, unfortunately, has been more elusive.
Seeing Barack Obama take the oath of office as the first Black president was groundbreaking. Seeing Kamala Harris become the first African American and Asian American woman to take the oath of office as the nation’s first female vice president was also notable.
But this most recent accomplishment by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has the potential to be even more impactful than those two outstanding achievements by President Obama and Vice President Harris. Presidents and vice presidents exercise power for eight years, at maximum. Justice Brown Jackson, however, at the relatively young age of 51, is positioned to make an even broader impact through her lifetime appointment.
For 233 years, Black women, who make up 13% of the US population, have not had anyone who looks like them—or who have had similar life experiences—on the highest Court of the land, yet many decisions have been made that impact their lives. Representation matters when it comes to passing judgments that impact our lives so deeply and extensively.
While the elevation of one Black woman does not change life for all Black women, this appointment launches what Princeton Professor Eddie Glaude calls “the eruption of possibility” for little Black girls and other girls of color. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation gives them another solid reason to hope they can genuinely pursue any goal they want—and that these goals are no longer hypothetical possibilities but instead within their reach.
Now that we have changed the face of leadership on the Supreme Court related to religion, gender and race, our focus shifts to other forms of representation. When will we see the first justice who is deaf, blind or otherwise disabled? When will we have our first openly LGBTQ justice? When will we achieve Asian American, Native American or Pacific Islander representation? What about a Muslim-practicing justice? The more we can have a Court that reflects the composition of the country, the more it will fully reflect the thinking and will of the nation.
Expressing excitement at seeing a more diverse and inclusive Court does not mean a person begrudges those who are already there or who have historically held the seats. Certainly, the best and brightest should hold the seats on the Court. And, as we continue to expand the representation within the Court, we are truly nominating and confirming our best and brightest—without the limitations that racism and sexism have historically placed on the selection process.
We have a diverse country—and we are moving to a more inclusive one. Inclusion matters. Inclusion, which is a core component of effective 21st-century leadership, is more than just being a member of society. It’s about the chance to have a say in how society is run and serve as a leader within that society. Representation moves people from a sense of hopelessness and resignation to one of aspiration, pride and purpose.
When we see inclusion at the highest levels of government, we chart a path forward for increasing inclusion in other areas of society. One day, there will be no more “firsts” because we will be truly inclusive in every way. Diversity and inclusion will have transformed from being more than a novel idea to an authentic way of thinking, living and leading—because Inclusion Matters!
Women in Leadership Institute™
NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
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