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Ketanji Brown Jackson and ‘the nature of a right’

It is clear that the only rights the GOP cares about are the ones that protect their privilege

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testified during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.Chip Somodevilla/Getty

They want Ketanji Brown Jackson to be small. But she will not cower.

Black women are familiar with the weight of white supremacy even when it cloaks itself in a polite veneer.

The GOP repeatedly has said Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings are to be fair and respectful. They tell her how “intelligent” and “articulate” she is, affirming how proud Jackson should be as they look for ways to lay pressure on her in hopes of making her chin reach her neck in shame.

When I see a Black woman in a largely white space, I know her existence is a resistance to every hurdle she was made to jump to be there, even if she is overqualified. I know she’s had to maintain a face of grace while being condescended to with compliments dipped in tropes.


Even as faith keeps her light in her spirit, she carries a heavy load.

Over the last 48 hours, Republican senators have flattened her rulings to create an outrageous narrative of Jackson as an advocate of pedophiles. They vilified her for upholding the right to fair counsel when she represented Guantanamo Bay detainees as a federal public defender and called her soft on crime.

Now, they are outraged by counterpoints and clarifying follow-up questions made by Democrats.

As Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said Wednesday morning, the hearings have become a “testing ground” for conspiracy theories and culture wars. The GOP has collectively, as a party, declared her a critical race theorist. They are politicizing the court.

Senator Lindsey Graham, who so vehemently denies the existence of systemic racism, gaslit Jackson.

He used his time with Jackson on Tuesday to center Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and the way he felt she was treated unfairly during her confirmation process, proclaiming he would never treat Jackson that way while actively doing just that.


While asking her about her faith on a scale from 1 to 10 and insisting he knew she could keep her religion and judgments separate, he continually interrupted her and then told her, “just imagine what would happen if people on late-night TV called you an f-ing nut, speaking in tongues because you’ve practiced the Catholic faith in a way they couldn’t relate to.”

To act as though a Black woman has not already been judged and treated poorly and needs to imagine how a white woman’s feelings were hurt is ridiculous. Painting KBJ out to be a crime-pushing judge coming to upend the Constitution is egregious. To compare her to Brett Kavanaugh, who was literally accused of sexual assault and threw a tantrum during his confirmation process, is out of line.

Wednesday, Graham continued to badger Jackson, bringing up Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing.

“He was ambushed,” Graham told her. “How would you feel if we did that to you?” And then they did.

This is where we are. We knew this is how it would be. This is how it’s always been.

KBJ is the most qualified candidate we’ve seen in generations. For a party that champions the likes of Graham and Ted Cruz, for a group that includes an insurrectionist like Josh Hawley, Jackson feels dangerous.

It’s taken 233 years to see the first Black woman nominated to be a justice on the Supreme Court. Jackson has been questioned and scrutinized by 22 Senate Judiciary Committee members — mostly white men — and not one Black woman. Among the 100 senators voting to fill the next court seat, there are no Black women.


If confirmed, Jackson will be the third Black judge to serve on the Supreme Court. Yet, rather than seeing the inequities in the lack of representation, the GOP finds it unfair that President Biden set out to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, a court that once denied Black folk their humanity.

So they are using the hearings not to screen her qualifications and delve into her judicial philosophy, which are ironclad, but to politicize the courts and amplify their agendas.

To see Cruz weaponize the words of Martin Luther King Jr. against anti-racist work, claiming the civil rights activist sought a colorblind society, is to witness buffoonery. King’s work was rooted in the radical fight against racism. He knew we had to create equity and it would start with recognizing the intersections of justice, class, and race.

John Cornyn, the other Texas senator, wanted Jackson to agree with him that the Supreme Court’s ruling that same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marry creates a conflict of faith and federal law.

“That is the nature of a right,” Jackson answered. “When there is a right, it means that there are limitations on regulation, even if people are regulating pursuant to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The thing is, the GOP is not interested in the rights of everyone. They are interested in rights as they were originally written, with white cisgender men in mind. They are determined to protect their power and privilege. You can even hear it in their comments.


“If a judge rewrites the law later because of vague notions about fairness or equity or the common good, that unravels all of our work,” Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley said in opening statements.

He’s wrong. Fairness, equity, and the common good should be inherently considered in the making and interpreting of laws. Jackson understands the original text, thoroughly, and is committed to justice as it should be.

“I have dedicated my career to ensuring that the words engraved on the front of the Supreme Court building — equal justice under law — are a reality and not just an ideal,” Jackson said at the start of her hearing.

Ketanji Onyika Brown Jackson. Her parents were told her name meant “lovely one.” We call her KBJ, who rules without fear or favor, committed to her judicial oath.

Lovely one, only one, but not lonely one. They are trying to twist your truth, but we got you.

Hold your head high, Black woman. It is your right to be here.

Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at Follow her @sincerelyjenee and on Instagram @abeautifulresistance.