President's Message - April 2022

Dignity and Grace – Hon. Ketanji Brown Jackson

Mary McKelvey

WLALA President 2021-2022

(right) Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson takes her seat as she arrives prior to start of the third day of Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings on Judge Jackson’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 23, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

Hon. Ketanji Brown Jackson anchored her opening remarks to the Senate on March 21, 2022, with a hallmark of femaleness – she honored her family. She candidly addressed the issue that all working mothers struggle with when she spoke directly to her daughters, publicly admitting that she “did not always get the balance [between work and home] right.”  None of us get the balance right, but somehow—in her open and heartfelt public admission—she exonerated us all.  

Her Supreme Court confirmation hearings on occasion harkened back to darker times. They were reminiscent of the behavior of southern Senators in 1967, when they linked race and crime during the hearings when Thurgood Marshall was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson to be the first Black Supreme Court Justice.  Last month, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Josh Hawley of Missouri all adopted aggressive lines of questioning—all the while insisting none of it was about race.  The all-white male GOP lawmakers pressed Judge Jackson on everything from critical race theory to her sentencing for child pornography cases, trying to paint her as someone whose sympathies and loyalties are with criminals and not victims. In many instances, she was repeatedly cut off by these lawmakers.

How have we come to a place where this behavior passes for vetting a judge for the highest court in the land?  That is a question for another day, because as unpalatable as the process was at times, Judge Jackson didn’t flinch.  Instead, she masterfully seized the moment and refused to be bullied or intimidated. Facing Sen. Cruz, she didn’t dodge his questioning; rather, she firmly, calmy, and adeptly addressed and dismantled his theatrical diatribe.

These Senators’ antics aside, dignity is not dead on Capitol Hill, and light always shines brightest in the darkness.  Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey illuminated the hearings with the light of respectability as he reminded Judge Jackson of the many victories at every stage of her life. He praised her poise, recognizing that she sat with “grit and grace and show[ed] us extraordinary demeanor” during the hearings.  He went on to observe that “you got here like every Black woman in America has gotten anywhere” and referenced the comment attributed to the late dancer Ginger Rogers, who pointed out that she did everything that her partner Fred Astaire did, but “backwards and in high heels” (and therefore with much added difficulty).  Judge Jackson’s tears in the face of Sen. Booker’s sincere commendation are further evidence that a brilliant mind and an open heart are far from incompatible.

Judge Jackson has arrived as a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court after a lifetime of achievement through her merit and abilities and against tremendous odds as a Black woman in America.  I can only speculate as to the indignities she has been subjected to over the fifty-one years of her life, but I know that she has mastered the art of looking ignorance directly in the eye and responding from a place of wisdom.  If she is confirmed as expected, the U.S. Supreme Court and our country are getting a sorely needed shot of dignity and grace, while women all over the world will be provided an opportunity to see the glorious and powerful embodiment of a woman who has harmonized her strength with her softness and merged them into a powerful essence that can and will change the world.  It is an honor and a privilege and to see this happen in my lifetime and during my presidency of WLALA. It is a powerful preview of the next chapter of history for all women.