Experts assess the impact of the first Black woman justice on the US Supreme Court

On March 3, days after Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s historic nomination to the Supreme Court was announced, a panel of experts convened at a NYU Law virtual event to discuss the importance of diversity and representation on high courts, and how Jackson’s experience will inform her work. 

In her welcome remarks, Melissa Murray, Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law and faculty director of the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network, invited attendees to “explore why identity is so key to the conversation around this particular nomination, from President Biden’s pledge to nominate a Black woman, to how Judge Jackson’s identity is already informing her reception as a nominee.”

The virtual conversation was co-hosted by the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network; the Law Alumni of Color Association; the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law; the Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging; the American Constitution Society; the Black Allied Law Students Association; the Women of Color Collective; and Law Women. 

The panelists included:

  • Debo Adegbile ’94, partner, WilmerHale; commissioner, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
  • Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People, a national network connecting women of color to encourage political participation and support women of color in leadership roles
  • Tiffany Gardner ’01, chief executive officer of ReflectUS, a coalition working to increase the number of women in office and achieve equal levels of representation across the racial, ideological, ethnic, and geographic spectrum

Watch the full discussion on video:

Selected remarks by the panelists:

Aimee Allison: “For millions of us Black women, we finally have an opportunity to see ourselves reflected in the highest court in the land. But it’s more than that…[Her nomination is] going to forever change what a Supreme Court Justice looks like, and what it’s like to honorably serve this nation, and who… should be leading us, and should be looked at for the interpretation of laws in order to make it more and more just. It’s a very exciting moment for the country.” (video 4:36)

Tiffany Gardner: “What we’ve seen—even outside of this nomination, but again generally when women run for office, and in particular, Black women—is the sexism and the racism that they encounter. When women run for office—this is an appointed position, but it’s the same thing—their hairstyles, their clothing, their likability [may be questioned].… And it just really percolates up [to] the top when you’re talking about a nomination of this caliber and of this high profile nature.” (video 20:51)

Debo Adegbile ’94: “There have been approximately 3,800—3,843—people who have served as federal judges. Fewer than 2 percent, only 70, have been Black women in the history of the nation.… So when you begin just by thinking about what hasn’t been there, the voices that haven’t been there, what hasn’t been represented—that’s not because people aren’t qualified and able. That is because of certain structural factors which have not created the windows of opportunity for them to serve and for their voices and perspectives to be in the room.” (video 47:27)

Posted April 13, 2022