By: Laisha Harris
After a challenging four-day confirmation hearing and deadlock in the Senate committee, America has taken a step towards acknowledging and validating a Black woman in the highest court of the country. This summer, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, will be sworn in as the first Black woman to serve as Justice in the United States Supreme Court.
Presiding Houston Immigration Judge Erica Hughes stated, “It was amazing, watching the first Black female Vice President confirm the first Black female Supreme Court Justice.”
In 1776, when the Constitution was written, all men were created equal. In 1857, the United States Supreme Court said that the Constitution was not meant to include enslaved Black people. The framework has not always been designed to embrace or validate people of color. However, through the Civil Rights Movement and the enaction of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, legislative and executive opportunities that were typically dominated by White males became available to Black men and women. In 1967, Barbara Jordan was elected the first Black female Senator in Texas, while Thurgood Marshall became the first Black Supreme Court Justice.
History is typically filled with his stories of great triumph and rising above adversity. Throughout history, the tales and legacies of Black women have been overlooked and underrepresented. Before Dred Scott, there was Elizabeth Freeman. Before Frederick Douglass, there was Sojourner Truth and Maria Stewart. Before Barack Obama, there was Shirley Chisholm.
Black women have a way of contributing and reflecting the authenticity and compassion that holds the community together. “We’ve always been ready but never had that opportunity,” Judge Finch reflected. Thinking about how far we have come, we deserve a moment of pause and celebration.
Black women judges in Houston stated how “excited is an understatement.” The Presiding Judge of Harris County Criminal Court Toria Finch is “overwhelmed with joy! This confirmation legitimizes the place of Black women in the judiciary. It’s not common for people to consider Black women to be serious candidates.”
The work that Black women have put into contributing to the fairness and equity in America ought not go unnoticed. While the system is not fixed, there are a lot of people working on it. In 2018, Houston made news by appointing 19 Black women to the bench. For the first time, in more than one space, a defendant would come face-to-face with a person who can see, understand, and validate their humanity.
In a field typically dominated by White men, Black women like Barbara Jordan to Stacey Abrams are forging a path on the roads less traveled for little Black girls across the county. This new generation of children have seen a Black President, a Black Vice President, and a Black Supreme Court Justice. We have almost made it into every facet of the government that so diligently worked to exclude us. “It means the world to me, specifically because no matter who is against it – the world is changing,” stated Judge Hughes.
Judge Finch, along with Judge Hughes, were among the Houston-19. “We didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until it happened. Now, we have a stronger voice and appearance. Now, there’s Black women in almost every election,” Judge Finch said, “[Jackson’s] confirmation validates our seat at the table for consideration.”
This is a moment in our history that cannot be defined by one writer, one citizen, or even a few. The role in which Black women have in the lives of others is paramount. The impact of this moment will range from excitement to indifference, depending on who you ask. What is undeniable is the symbolism behind the confirmation. As a law-student with judicial aspirations, the applause and standing ovation for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson fills me with joy. Justice Jackson reflects the aspirations of little Black girls who have dreams of being in rooms we were once excluded from. This moment in history reflects the shift from my existence as an exchangeable commodity to an interpreter of the highest court of the land.
Black women, we have been working vigorously to keep our families afloat, our dreams pruned, and our eyes on the prize. Whatever your prize, you deserve a moment of peace and celebration.