On April 8th, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed as the first Black female Supreme Court justice.
This Women’s History month, there is no shortage of brilliant women to celebrate. Women who have been shattering glass ceilings, taking up space, and paving the way for future generations. Women, like Dr. KMarie King, the first Black female chair of surgery at an academic health science center in the United States, and Jennifer King, the first Black woman to become a full-time coach in the NFL. But there is still much history yet to unfold. And perhaps none more pertinent than that of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination for the Supreme Court.
Following her nomination by President Biden, Judge Jackson sits on the cusp of history. If confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, she will be the first Black woman to reach the highest echelon of the legal profession in the United States. And the significance of that possibility is not lost to the millions of Black women across the country who see Judge Jackson’s ascent into a space long reserved for white men as a beacon of, albeit long-delayed, promise. And to mothers all too familiar with the challenges, and often penalties, of balancing career and motherhood. But as the country watches the unfolding of a historic confirmation process, many are already looking to the future. And what Judge Jackson’s confirmation will have on the biggest decisions to affect the country. And perhaps chief among them is the future of reproductive rights.
With abortion rights already a Supreme Court hot-button issue, both anti-abortion proponents and pro-choice activists are heavily vested in the outcome of Judge Jackson’s confirmation process. Last September Texas implemented an anti-abortion law banning the termination of a pregnancy after six weeks. The law not only restricted women’s access to abortion services but removed their reproductive freedoms when it overturned T Roe v. Wade. The landmark decision granted constitutional protection for women’s rights to abortions in 1973 but has increasingly come under attack. The Texas abortion law is the country’s most restrictive of reproductive rights.
Most recently, the Supreme Court heard and is pending the decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The case challenges the constitutionality of prohibiting abortions after the fifteenth week of pregnancy except in the case of a medical emergency or fetal abnormality. A ruling in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade would further erode women’s reproductive rights.
As part of Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearings, the issue of abortion has been raised. And to which Judge Jackson offered that the Supreme Court had already settled the law “concerning the right to terminate a woman’s pregnancy.” In her own judicial decisions as a federal judge, she ruled to reinstate funding to teen pregnancy prevention programs and, approved a motion to bar the federal government from requiring an employer to provide its employees with health care coverage for contraceptives to which it had a religious objection.
One of the longstanding criticisms of the Supreme Court has been that it has not evolved to reflect the diversity of the American people. In the institution’s 233 history, and of the 114 justices to have served on the bench, 108 have been white men. Similarly, a persisting concern for women across the country is that decisions about their bodies and livelihoods are being made by men who have no real understanding of the consequences of restricting and removing reproductive rights. Those concerns weigh particularly heavily on women in vulnerable positions. And the materialization of stricter anti-abortion laws across the country would only leave them disproportionately exposed to the risks of loss of lives and livelihoods.
There is only so much that we might be able to glean about Judge Jackson’s stance on reproductive rights, perhaps we can, nonetheless, be confident that a confirmed Justice Jackson would be a champion for a woman’s right to choose. And in a climate where women’s reproductive rights are being chipped away, it has never been more important to have a representative among the most powerful decision-makers in the country that not only reflects an underserved portion of the population, but understands the dire ramifications of restricting reproductive rights. And that can adjudicate and interpret the law with a real understanding of what is at stake and the impacts that will be felt for years to come.