U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson at her nomination to the Supreme Court. In the background are President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. | White House photo.

Candidate Joe Biden’s pledge on the Gaillard Center’s stage during a 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate led to the Thursday vote in the U.S. Senate to confirm U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jackson is expected to take her seat on the Supreme Court when current Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, retires at the end of the current term, which formally ends in early October.  Jackson clerked for Breyer from 1999 to 2000.

During a 2020 presidential debate, Biden answered a question about his values:  “when you get knocked down, get up, and everyone’s entitled to be treated with dignity.” He then pivoted to this pledge: “I’m looking forward to making sure there’s a Black woman on the Supreme Court to make sure we in fact get everyone represented.”

Biden, who had not performed well in the early New Hampshire and Iowa elections, went on to win in South Carolina, which acted as a slingshot for victories days later in Super Tuesday primaries across the nation. He beat incumbent President Donald Trump that November.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, who endorsed Biden in what was seen as the role of a kingmaker, wanted U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs of South Carolina to be the next Supreme Court justice. But he said Thursday that Jackson would become an extraordinary justice.

“Judge Jackson demonstrated her ability to rise above great challenges and meet the moment,” he said Thursday in a statement. “She stands as a shining example of the depth and breadth of talent among a diverse pool of jurists who, if empowered to serve, will help ensure that justice in this country is fair and equitable for all.”

Clyburn also said Biden fulfilled his 2020 pledge by nominating Jackson and helping her to get confirmed. Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison of South Carolina agreed Thursday in Columbia, adding, “Today proves once again that a Black woman can accomplish anything. She can be vice president of the United States. She can shape the future of our nation. And now, she will serve on the highest court in the land. And I’m proud that the reason why this happened is because of Democrats here in the great state of South Carolina.”

Jackson’s confirmation is big deal for Black women

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Mia McLeod of Columbia said Jackson’s confirmation was a huge step toward progress in the United States.

“I celebrate her today because her voice and her identity matter,” McLeod told sister publication Statehouse Report. “Today, Black women are represented in a way that we have never seen.  

“Black women are the cornerstone of progress. We nurtured and fought for this country even when we were not allowed to reap the benefits of our labor. Black women are continually underrepresented in leadership. From civic life to our communities. I hope today’s confirmation of Justice Jackson will turn the tide for Black women in our country.”

State Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, said his mother, who died in 2014 at age 99, would have been happy with Thursday’s 53-47 vote to confirm Jackson.  Her reaction likely would have been, “‘Praise God, it’s been a long time a-coming,’” he said.

Govan, who is running to be state superintendent of education, added, “Democracies have always thrived on diversity by providing equal access and inclusion. The fact that we are just now at this point, getting around to elevating the first African American woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, considering the major contributions and roles that Black women have played in the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements, gives my four daughters and three granddaughters a sliver of hope.”

State Rep. Wendy Brawley, D-Richland, said Thursday’s Senate vote was a demonstration that the country was committed to living up to its promise.

“Judge Ketanji Jackson’s selection as the next Supreme Court Justice is such a point of pride for all women but especially for Black women who have for so long been denied representation on the court.”

She added that she would have loved for South Carolina’s Childs to have been elevated to the high court, but she looked forward to confirmation of Childs’ nomination to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Furman University political scientist Danielle Vinson added African American women have been fighting for civil rights for more than a century.

“They played prominent roles in winning voting rights for women and racial minorities nationally and desegregating schools and other institutions in South Carolina and around the country,” she said. “It’s only right that an African American woman has finally ascended to the bench that is responsible for protecting those rights and our Constitution into the future. It’s also important for girls and young women to see themselves in these roles. It’s easier to become something when you see it really is possible.”

This story first appeared in Statehouse Report.

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