By Ben Jealous
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson made history this week when the U.S. Senate confirmed her nomination as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. That is cause for celebration.
When Judge Jackson is sworn in as Justice Jackson later this year, she will become the first Black woman to serve on our highest court. And she will become the first justice ever to have served as a public defender. She will bring a much-needed “justice for all” perspective to the court.
Judge Jackson’s nomination has inspired millions of Americans. Her bipartisan support from Americans and senators is a sign that our country can continue to move toward a “more perfect union.”
The confirmation process, however, showed us something else. Something far more disturbing about the current state of that union.
The far-right wing of the conservative movement, which is currently the dominant force in the Republican Party, set out to smear Judge Jackson and anyone—Republican or Democrat—who supported her. They made it clear why we cannot allow them to take power in this year’s elections.
They dragged Judge Jackson into dishonest and dishonorable far-right political campaigns that were already under way.
For example, far-right activists and their Republican allies have been waging a campaign to silence teaching about racism in U.S. history and institutions. The Far Right has devoted a huge amount of energy to make critical race theory—a way of studying the impact of racism—something sinister. They want to scare conservative voters into turning out for school board elections and this year’s congressional elections. The extremist think-tank activist who started the CRT scare has admitted that his goal was just to apply that label to anything that right-wing culture warriors didn’t like. And for sure, they tried to slap it on Judge Jackson.
Another far-right campaign sweeping the country is an attack on the legal equality of LGBTQ Americans. That campaign taps into some of the oldest and ugliest smears against LGBTQ people—claims that they are a threat to children. And it draws energy from the conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon activists about a network of powerful pedophiles.
Shameless senators like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz tried to drag Judge Jackson into that cesspool by distorting her record as a judge and portraying this mother of two daughters as sympathetic to child abusers. Now, keep in mind that Judge Jackson is from a law enforcement family, and was endorsed by organizations representing both police chiefs and police officers. That didn’t stop the smears.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene made it clear that this was a political weapon. She outrageously attacked three Republican senators who voted to confirm Judge Jackson, calling them “pro-pedophile.” And she attacked Democrats as “the party of pedophiles.” The Family Research Council suggested that it would try to make Democratic senators explain their support for someone who is “lenient on child offenders.” Others used far worse language.
This is beyond unprincipled. It is dangerous. And it shows us how much is at stake in this year’s elections. If we let these extremists get control of the House and Senate, we will be putting our future in the hands of people like Greene, Hawley and Cruz. And we will put our courts in the hands of Mitch McConnell, who kept many of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees, including a Supreme Court nominee, from even getting a vote.
Judge Jackson’s nomination was part of an exceptional effort that President Joe Biden has made to put more Black women, and a more diverse group of judges, on the courts. But Sen. Lindsey Graham made it clear that Republicans would put an end to that. He said if Republicans had been in control of the Senate, Judge Jackson wouldn’t have even gotten a hearing—because Republican senators would have forced President Biden to name someone else.
What a loss that would have been for our country—and for all the people who are inspired by Judge Jackson. Let’s not give the Far Right a veto over our courts and our future.
Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and Professor of the Practice in the Africana Studies Department at the University of Pennsylvania where he teaches leadership. Jealous has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned nonprofit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the NAACP. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.