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The gift that will benefit Jackson, and the nation, after her confirmation: Time

The months before Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson hears her first oral argument as an associate justice of the Supreme Court give her an opportunity to educate America about who she is.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will have some space and time to absorb the full, monumental nature of her achievement. Let me say that again: her achievement.JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The Senate has voted, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be elevated to the nation’s highest court. In a single move, Justice Jackson will land in the history books in multiple ways: the first Black woman on the US Supreme Court; just the third Black justice; only the sixth woman. All occurrences so rare they can be counted on fingers.

With her confirmation, Jackson also gets a unique gift no other justice in modern times has received: the ability to enjoy the historic achievement for an extended period of time before she gets to work. That time also presents a unique opportunity — not just for Jackson, but for all of us.


Jackson will not take her spot on the bench until the court’s current term ends and the tenure of the justice she will replace, retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, is over. That is expected to happen at the end of June or early July.

Usually, newly confirmed nominees are whisked almost immediately from the frenzied, partisan, and increasingly acerbic process of confirmation to the bench. In the case of the court’s newest jurist before Jackson, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the time between her nomination and the first oral argument she participated in was 37 days. That was breakneck speed even by Supreme Court standards, but most justices get up and running on the job fairly swiftly.

In this case, Jackson has a moment — or really, about three months — to breathe. She will have some space and time to absorb the full, monumental nature of her achievement.

Let me say that again: her achievement. Jackson has reached this milestone through her own intelligence, grit, determination, hard work, and as she herself noted, perseverance.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who also broke ground, as the court’s first Latina justice, didn’t speak directly about her soon-to-be colleague during an appearance this week at Washington University in Saint Louis. But Sotomayor did speak about her own experience in battling racism and proving her own worthiness as she ascended to the bench. She may not have been talking about Jackson, but she may as well have been.


“When I was being nominated, people said I wasn’t smart enough to be on the Supreme Court,” said Sotomayor, who like Jackson, attended an Ivy League college and law school. “It felt like, ‘What’s enough, and when is it enough?’ ”

This additional time will allow Jackson to fully shake off the unfounded, vitriolic attacks she endured through the confirmation process. She can leave behind the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who ignored her thoughtful, measured, and edifying answers about her experience and views about the rule of law, and seemed only interested in smearing her in front of the cameras. She won’t have to worry about defending baseless claims that she is somehow a coddler of child pornographers or terrorists. She can let history take care of those who chose to stand on the wrong side of it.

Jackson can also take time to brace herself for the work ahead. In addition to the monumental responsibility of being a Supreme Court justice, Jackson — as the history maker and barrier breaker — will have an additional responsibility to set a standard. She has to show Americans what a Black woman justice can do.


“You have to be part of what educates them,” Sotomayor said this week, specifically about encountering racism and, again, not addressed to or about Jackson, but on point just the same. “You have to be part of what talks with them and brings out from them the best in themselves in order for them to listen to what you’re trying to say.”

The people Jackson will have to try to educate in that way include not just racists or more benign skeptics of various stripes, but also her fellow justices. Joining a court that has already been shaped in the image of conservative legal groups like the Federalist Society, Jackson won’t often have the ability to speak on behalf of the court’s majority in cases that will impact Americans the most. But she will be able to speak to her colleagues who are in that position.

And the other justices will have time, not just in these three bonus months, but over the summer, before the court begins another term jam-packed with high-stakes cases beginning in October, to get to know Jackson. They will see her for the judge, the intellectual, and the human being that she is.

And so will America. I hope Jackson enjoys this victory lap, one that shows the country that her achievements, like Sotomayor’s, are enough. The nation needs this extra time to see, to understand, and to absorb the fact that a Supreme Court justice need not be in the mold of the 108 white men who preceded Jackson. With Jackson, we break that mold.


Kimberly Atkins Stohr is a columnist for the Globe. She may be reached at kimberly.atkinsstohr@globe.com. Follow her @KimberlyEAtkins.