What a powerful moment we recently witnessed as the US Senate confirmed Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court—now the first-ever Black woman confirmed to the nation's highest court. Justice Jackson is an exceptional, highly-respected jurist, who will bring a range of experiences and a new, much-needed perspective to the Court.
It took over 230 years for this country to reach this moment, and while I watched the final votes be cast, such joy and pride filled my heart for this woman who endured and persevered through so much. When I was in law school 35 years ago at Georgetown, I would regularly go to view the Supreme Court. While Justice Marshall was serving with distinction toward the end of his service and Justice O'Connor was sitting as the first woman, it never ever occurred to me or the few other Black women lawyers I knew that there would ever be a Black woman on the Supreme Court. Even now many years later, as a member of the Supreme Court Bar, I still never imagined this moment! This month, that unspoken idea was actualized.
During her hearing, Justice Jackson told the moving story of how arriving at Harvard left her wondering if she was worthy to be there and if she belonged. Those words had a profound impact on me. I, like millions of Black women, have felt those same exact thoughts throughout my life and career. The one piece of advice she gave to young people and those feeling those same thoughts was to “persevere,” and that is the one word I would want to leave for all of you when these thoughts enter your mind in the future. We have persevered, and soon we will witness Justice Jackson be sworn in to the Supreme Court.
I hope each of you takes a few minutes to celebrate this moment and reflect on the history this confirmation made. It has been a long and tough road for so many, however, this is a win that each of us can bask in as it moves this country a bit closer to being more representative of all of us. It is long overdue for a Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court and finally, we are moving closer to a Supreme Court that looks more like America, and that comes closer to delivering justice to all Americans.
The Supreme Court will continue to determine not only the rights and liberties of all Americans but also directly impact our pursuit of the livable, thriving planet we all deserve. Its decisions will shape the direction of our country for generations and will determine whether the promises enshrined in our environmental laws and Constitution are protected or eliminated.
For example, the Supreme Court heard arguments this term in a case called West Virginia v. EPA (Justice Jackson will not yet be sworn in to participate in this case). Our ELP lawyers, Joanne Spalding and Andres Restrepo submitted briefs. This case will decide how much authority the EPA has to protect the public from climate change. Several Republican-leaning states and fossil fuel companies are asking the Supreme Court to limit the government's ability in general to protect the public’s well-being and health.
In addition, next term, when Justice Jackson will be on the bench, the Supreme Court will hear Sackett v. EPA, a case in which the Clean Water Act’s impact could be severely reduced and thus the government's ability to ensure all Americans have access to clean water.
Thankfully, Justice Jackson's record shows that she understands the government’s responsibility to protect the public from environmental harm and violations. She understands the courts’ crucial role in holding powerful corporate and fossil fuel interests accountable.
I am so proud that in just a few weeks, thousands of Sierra Club members and supporters from across the country took action by sending tens of thousands of messages and calls to their senators in support of Justice Jackson. Others organized sign-on letters and rallies, and wrote letters to the editor, helping affirm our commitment to seeing Justice Jackson confirmed in this historic campaign.
Please take some time to enjoy this win and reflect on it. The coalition of civil rights, womens’ and Black women’s groups, lawyers’ organizations, faith community, environmental, law students from around the country and many others all came together in common cause and prevailed! We still have some tough fights ahead of us, such as the nomination of Nancy Abudu, the first Black woman nominated for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, but I look forward to fighting them with our arms linked together and our heads held high.