The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Black women celebrate Jackson’s swearing in: ‘We needed this happy’

Ketanji Brown Jackson is first Black female U.S. Supreme Court justice

Sheila Carr watches a protest around the corner from the Supreme Court on June 30, when Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as a justice. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

On International Women’s Day in 2021, Glynda Carr wrote out a list with other members of her organization, Higher Heights for America, which is dedicated to electing more liberal Black women to office. There were no Black women governors, they wrote. No Black women in the Senate. No Black woman had ever been president. No Black woman had ever sat on the Supreme Court.

More than a year later, Carr is taking some time off advocating, writing, protesting. Today, even briefly, she’s able to celebrate.

Live: Ketanji Brown Jackson sworn in to Supreme Court, making history

“On the 50th anniversary of Shirley Chisholm’s bold run for president, we have a Black woman on a Supreme Court,” said Carr, who’s president, chief executive and co-founder of Higher Heights. “We didn’t think there would be an opening in 2022. We’re certainly seeing the fruits of [Chisholm’s] labor today.”

At noon on Thursday, Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the first Black female Supreme Court justice in U.S. history. Her supporters have been waiting for this moment since April, when Jackson was confirmed to the court in a 53-to-47 Senate vote. She was sworn in just minutes after Justice Stephen G. Breyer, her mentor, made his retirement official.

The liberal-leaning judge is joining a court in turmoil — one that this year saw an extremely unusual leak of a draft opinion. And the court’s rulings this month have reflected its conservative majority: It overturned the fundamental right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade, restricted gun regulations and, most recently, limited the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency.

For liberal organizers like Carr, Jackson’s ascent to power comes during a terrifying time.

But “we needed this happy today,” Carr added. “I’m excited to be able to see and hear the excitement [online]. Sometime between today and tomorrow, I’ll be rocking a Ketanji Brown Jackson poster, I’ll be posting a Ketanji Brown Jackson photo.”

Black women are leaning into joy throughout Jackson’s hearings: ‘We need to celebrate this’

Indeed, for many Black women, this is a moment for celebration. Although some said they are worried about the politicized moment in which Jackson joins the court, the promise of representation in Supreme Court decisions and for other Black women trumps all at this point.

Many expressed their joy on social media.

“This wonderful thing happened today. We can certainly pause to celebrate,” MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid wrote on Twitter.

“Congratulations to Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson,” Sherrilyn Iffil, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, tweeted.

Rebeca Lafond, 24, didn’t dare dream about being a lawyer when she was growing up, she said. After all, the lawyers she knew of weren’t Haitian immigrants, they didn’t live in central Brooklyn like her and, most pertinently, they weren’t Black.

Now a second-year student at City University of New York School of Law, Lafond is “celebrating today like a holiday.”

“In fact, it should be a holiday,” she said. “I didn’t get that much support or see many people who look like me within the field. Hopefully younger people, younger children now will see her as judge and think, this can be me one day.”

But there have been moments during Jackson’s path to Supreme Court justice that haven’t been as joyful, Lafond said: Listening to Jackson’s confirmation hearings was difficult for her.

“Black women are always hit 10 times harder. It’s never as easy for us as it is for our counterparts,” said Lafond, referring to Republican senators’ lines of questioning during Jackson’s confirmation hearings. “We always have to be the strong Black woman. We always have to stand firm, not cry, be strong. But, in reality, it hurts to see that, because why do we have to be a punching bag? But [Jackson] did it with such grace.”

Third-year law student Ebony Cormier also watched the hearings — but she did so from inside Congress, seated several rows behind Jackson.

“In that moment, I remember Republican senators trying to tarnish her legacy and trying to tear her down,” said Cormier, 39, a student at Southern University Law Center. “But to see her hold her head up high and stand in her truth, she was just such a pillar and example for Black women, all women really, of how you face controversy head-on with dignity and class.”

Today, Cormier is celebrating Jackson’s swearing-in with her two young daughters. She’s happy that they’ll grow up with Jackson as a role model, proof that they can do “anything they set their mind to,” she said.

Carr plans on calling her goddaughters after she celebrates with thousands of other Black women at a conference later today. She also thinks about her mother and the other “unnamed Black activists” who join her celebrations in spirit.

Her favorite Maya Angelou quote also comes to mind, she said: “I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.”

Jackson, in standing with her hand up today, “may be coming as one, but she stands as 10,000,” Carr said. “And I think that sums up the moment today for me.”