Ketanji Brown Jackson becomes the first Black woman elevated to the Supreme Court

In a historic first, the Senate Thursday narrowly confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. Three Republican senators joined all 50 Democrats in voting for Jackson. LaDoris Cordell, who became the first Black woman judge in northern California and recently published a memoir titled "Her Honor," joins Amna Nawaz for more on the confirmation.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, the Senate today narrowly confirmed the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Let's begin now with some background on today's vote following a whirlwind confirmation process.

    Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States: On this vote, the yeas are 53, the nays are 47. And this nomination is confirmed.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A moment centuries in the making, as the Senate voted 53 to 47 to confirm judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the nation's highest court. Judge Jackson watched it unfold alongside President Biden in the White House.

    And Vice President Harris reflected on the occasion as she left the chamber.

  • Kamala Harris:

    The statement about that, on our highest court in the land, we want to make sure that there's going to be full representation and the finest and brightest and the best, and that's what happened today. I'm very proud.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Three Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Susan Collins of Maine, joined all 50 Democrats in voting for Jackson. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hailed today's vote.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY):

    This is a great moment for Judge Jackson, but it is even great — a greater moment for America, as we rise to a more perfect union.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jackson will become not only the first Black woman on the court. She will also be the first justice to have been a federal public defender.

    Last month, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she spoke of the legal racial segregation her parents lived through and how it shaped her life today.

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Supreme Court Nominee:

    My parents taught me that, unlike the many barriers that they had had to face growing up, my path was clearer, so that if I worked hard and I believed in myself, in America, I could do anything or be anything I wanted to be.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jackson worked for eight years as a federal district court judge, until last June, when she was confirmed onto the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

    Some Republicans today repeated concerns about expanding the size of the court and Jackson's judicial philosophy. Here's Mitch McConnell.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY):

    Her judicial record is full of cases where a Judge Jackson ruled like a policymaker implementing personal biases, instead of a judge following the text wherever it led.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Others reiterated attacks on a narrower part of her sentencing record.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX):

    : We can reasonably expect that Justice Jackson, will consistently vote as she has done as a judge for the last 10 years, for more lenient sentences for criminal defendants.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Questions Jackson fielded time and again during confirmation hearings.

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson:

    I know what it's like to have loved ones who go off to protect and to serve, and the fear of not knowing whether or not they're going to come home again because of crime in the community.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The White House announced Judge Jackson will deliver remarks tomorrow from the South Lawn, along with President Biden and Vice President Harris.

    For the next three months, Jackson is a justice in waiting, until Justice Stephen Breyer retires at the end of the current court term. The longest previous gap between confirmation and taking the bench was in 1969, after a dispute between Presidents Nixon and Johnson stalled the approval of Warren Burger to succeed Chief Justice Earl Warren. Justice Jackson will sit for her first term on the court in October.

    For more on this historic Supreme Court confirmation, I'm joined by LaDoris Cordell. In the 1980s, she became the first Black woman judge in Northern California. She has since retired from the bench, recently published a memoir titled "Her Honor."

    Judge Cordell, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thanks for joining us.

    LaDoris Cordell, Former Superior Court of California Judge: Thanks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, it only took 233 years, but here we are.

    What did you think when the vote happened today, where we are, what it means for the nation?

  • LaDoris Cordell:

    Well, I watched the vote as it happened. And when it was finalized, I immediately thought this is a good day for America and it's a wonderful day for America's legal system.

    Yet another barrier has been broken. And we are on a slow, but steady process of making our U.S. Supreme Court look like America. We're not there yet. But this is a huge step in that direction.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judge, you know what it's like to be the first in a space, which is something Judge Jackson has known and will continue to know.

    The pressure is big for any high-profile role specifically in this kind of role for a Black woman. Talk to me about what that was like for you, what you anticipate for Judge Jackson.

  • LaDoris Cordell:

    Sure.

    The pressure that I felt being the first African American woman judge in Northern California, really two different kinds of pressure. One kind is what I call the bad pressure. And that's pressure from individuals within the institution and on the outside who expect you to fail, expect you and want you, hope you — that you fail. They have bought into negative stereotypes about women, about people of color, and they don't want their institutions to change.

    And then there's the good pressure. It's pressure from communities of color, from women's organizations and communities, who want you to succeed and hope that you will ,expect you to succeed.

    So what that means for waiting — Judge Brown Jackson, the justice in waiting, is that she's going to feel these pressures. But we have already seen that her history is that she has survived and dealt well with these pressures. In fact, they have made her thrive.

    So we can expect nothing different from what she has done already, and, as expressed, as she did at the confirmation hearing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judge Cordell, among those who opposed before and still oppose her, there are some that say she's only there because she's Black, right? There were some Republicans who were even saying that before the confirmation hearings began.

    What would you say to them?

  • LaDoris Cordell:

    Well, the same thing was said when I was appointed, I heard comments: Well, she's only there because she's a Black woman.

    And I say back to them — and I say this on behalf of Judge Brown Jackson — I'd rather be appointed because I'm a Black woman than not be appointed because I'm a Black woman. It is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a job that we can do and should have been doing.

    And consider the U.S. Supreme Court has been a segregated institution for more than 200 years. You look back when Thurgood Marshall came on the bench, and then we look, 1981, Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman on the court. Before then, hundreds of years, it's only been white males. It's been a segregated institution.

    So it is time. And it doesn't matter what people say about why they think she is there. We know that she has the credentials. She is among the best and the brightest. And we know that she will do a great job on the court.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Did it surprise you that three Republicans voted to confirm her?

  • LaDoris Cordell:

    It didn't surprise me.

    What surprised me was that they were — they are touted as having courage to break ranks and the courage to vote for this candidate, this nominee for the court.

    This doesn't take courage. This nomination and voting for her was common sense. And if anyone understands the legal system and how important representational diversity is, it doesn't take courage at all. It's common sense.

    So those who did not vote for her, they expressed themselves quite well with their baseless, race-baiting and insulting comments and questions to her. And I hope we spend very little time on these individuals who are basically very hypocritical and/or do not have an understanding of how the legal system works, particularly the criminal legal system.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We have less than a minute left but I have to ask. She could likely be on the bench for decades, right? She's very young.

    Given the conservative supermajority, though, she's not likely to change the ideal ideological balance, though. So what do you anticipate Justice Jackson's impact on the court will be?

  • LaDoris Cordell:

    Initially, as you stated, she will not be generally probably in the majority. She will be with the liberal wing, which now will be composed of three women, one African American, one Latina, and a Jewish woman, which I find wonderful, and the fact that there is so much diversity there.

    So she will likely be writing dissents. But I say to people who are discouraged by that, history shows that justices, as long as they're on the court, and they're on a long time, oftentimes, those dissenting opinions become majority opinions.

    So, the law evolves, as we know. And I expect her to be a consensus-builder, to at least attempt it, and make a good-faith attempt to do it. And, eventually, we're going to see things change, as they always do in our legal system.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is retired Judge LaDoris Cordell joining us tonight.

    Thank you so much for being with us.

  • LaDoris Cordell:

    Thank you so much. It's a good day.

Listen to this Segment