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The Ketanji Brown Jackson Hearings

No. I was not surprised that Ketanji Brown Jackson (KBJ) was treated poorly by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee at her Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

American has long had a penchant for selective humanity, always regarding white propertied men with full respect while regarding others on a sliding scale of disrespect. The mistreatment of Black women, at work, home and in the world, is par for the American course. 

The KBJ hearings were an example of what critical race theory (CRT) talks about, how race, class, gender, disability intersect with society and law in the United States and impact identity and inequality -- for example, how a highly qualified Black woman is treated at her confirmation hearings before the U.S. Congress.

KBJ has twice attended Harvard, completed a trifecta of federal clerkships, served on two federal courts and had more legal experience than her future colleagues. Yet it remains within the realm of acceptable to be disrespectful and rude, and to wage false, lascivious and indecent speech against a Black woman nominee.  

Over three marathon hearing days, Senators Hawley, Graham, Cruz, Blackburn, and others extended specious claims that Jackson abets child molesters by handing out ultra-low sentences. They lambasted her for doing her government job to defend Guantanamo detainees. They misrepresented her record, claiming for example that she accused the president of being a war criminal. And they interrupted her. Incessantly. At one point the chair told KBJ not to respond, since the Senator (Cruz) wouldn’t let her speak. Senator Graham worked himself into such a frenzy at one point, he had a hissy fit and stormed out.

Frankly, the committee members were able to create the kind of atmosphere that dominated the Kavanaugh hearings.  Invective filled the room, and challenges of ugly sex crime issues permeated the space. No Anita Hill or Christine Blasey Ford was there to testify that Jackson had engaged in such behavior, and yet committee members still attempted a “high tech lynching.”

It occurs to me that part of the job of white supremacist patriarchists is to object vehemently when a Black woman stands to hold power traditionally reserved for white men. Institutions have done an excellent job of remaining homogenous in part by playing the harassment card against diverse newcomers.  

I thought the GOP senators channeled Senator James Eastland (D-MI), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and vehement opponent of civil rights for Blacks, opponent of the Brown v. Board decision and proponent of the Southern Manifesto. 

In 1966, Eastland waged a war against the confirmation of Constance Baker Motley, first Black woman to sit on a federal District Court. Motley, who shares a birthday with KBJ, was also deserving—a renowned civil rights lawyer and former Manhattan Borough President. But Eastland aka “The Voice of the White South” was resolute that “the Black woman who desegregated his alma mater, Ole Miss, [would not] slide quietly by confirmation on the federal court bench.” Eastland maligned Motley’s work as a civil rights lawyer arguing that it would prevent her from being a loyal judge—just like Senators claimed last month that Jackson and her background will make it impossible for she to fair.

Unlike her predecessors who suffered challenging confirmations because of legitimate accusations-- Jackson was cool under pressure. Jackson didn’t not fuss, or yell, or get up and slap anyone. She spent most of the hearings explaining why the issues senators raised were with laws and guidelines passed by Congress, not with she.

I’m anxious for a time when being a Black woman has no bearing on the respect conveyed her generally or at her SCOTUS confirmation hearings.

 

Photo Credit: Francis Chung/E&E News/POLITICO

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Adrienne Jones, J.D., Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science and the director of the prelaw program at Morehouse College.