KBJ Made It To The Court. So, What's Next?
As the saying goes "Lord knows" we could use the wins. But, after a week of celebrating, we hope Democrats, along with the Black political class, understand that they're not done yet
Ketanji Brown Jackson is now a confirmed future Supreme Court Justice. We are jubilant and proud: she will be the first Black woman Supreme Court justice and she will be, clearly, the most qualified jurist on the Court once her credentials are stacked against the others. She will also be the most celebrated and heavily spotlighted justice on the High Court for quite some time, whether she’ll appreciate or embrace that role or not. Jackson will more than likely want to bury herself in judicial scholarship and deeply intellectual huddles with her clerks as her lifetime appointment gets underway. The zeitgeist will have other plans. It will want her as a marketing brochure for American exceptionalism and, even after the vile of unrepentant Republican White men who slandered her during confirmation, it will want her displayed as proof that Black girls can make it (you’ll just have to get hazed first). There will be instant demands for her time on such insufferable pop culture platforms as The View or The Breakfast Club, perhaps at an NAACP or BET Award ceremony or during a Saturday Night Live opener.
We strongly advise against doing any of that and hope she will just be Justice Jackson, keeping herself ensconced within the white marble of the Supreme Court.
So, now, here’s where we’ll probably hurt some feelings, and we don’t mean to: after a long week of emotional plaudits, "We Made it to the Mountaintop" emotion and moments in the spotlight after a tough confirmation fight, let's not forget that Black people still, as a distressed collective, struggle. They struggle greatly. One Black woman now on the Court won’t erase the magnitude of that struggle or, suddenly, be enough to mobilize Black voters in the way needed to stop a Republican electoral onslaught and whitelash in 2022. If that electoral whitelash is successful in 2022 in state and federal elections, political, economic and social conditions will get very bad and set the stage for the complete destruction of the Voting Rights Act along with erosion of the Reconstruction Acts.
We should appreciate President Biden for sticking to his promise, and stubbornly so. It was admirable. He needed to. Yet, there is the sense that the celebration of Jackson’s confirmation by Democrats - especially if it heads into Week Two and beyond - may get slightly over the top if they’re not careful. Some thoughts …
This is an important moment. This is not the huge transformative moment for the Black collective that it is being framed as. Biden and Democrats must be mindful of that. It may be a great moment for the Black political and professional class, but there is still enormous struggle in Black America that must be identified and acknowledged regularly.
Plus: Jackson won’t be seated in the Court until July, when outgoing Justice Stephen Breyer finally leaves. That is highly unusual for confirmed Justices. It may become optically problematic for President Biden to have the first Black women Justice languishing for a few months. We’ll see.
The Senate did not confirm Judge Jackson - Senate Democrats did, along with a few Republicans. Democrats need to make an immediate talking point out of that and, yes, make it political for the 2022 midterms. Do not give “the Senate” as a whole credit for Jackson’s confirmation and idly let Senate Republicans off the hook for blocking, still, voting rights legislation and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, along with other priorities ranging from school lunches to action on climate crisis response.
Jackson’s confirmation should be made political by Democrats. If celebrating Jackson is being done by Democrats in a bid to ingratiate themselves with disgruntled Black voters, well then use the Jackson confirmation fight to mobilize them. Do that by 1) identifying the Senate Republicans who voted against her and disrespected her who are up for re-election in 2022 and 2) identifying the states they are in where 10-15% or more of the eligible electorate is Black and can be tapped to unseat them for the slight.
The reliance on symbolic moments to define progress for the Black community collective is getting a bit exhausting. The current Black political, professional and Pan-Hellenic class, just like the old (once and sometimes referred to as the “Talented Tenth”), is just as guilty as American pop culture and media systems.
We keep making the mistake of measuring progress according to stylistic adjustments in institutions, work spaces and board rooms. But, in terms of Black condition, we must measure progress based on improvements in quality of life.
True progress in Black American should always be meticulously tracked according to the questions: Does everyone have livable wages? Is everyone in an affordable home? Does everyone have food to eat? Does everyone have access to healthcare? Is everyone safe from violence and attacks on their environment? Are the majority of young Black K-12 students reading and math proficient?
The Black electorate, particularly those who constitute the very sizable “non-voters” who could be tapped, are angry. The state of that anger and frustration is palpable, but it continues being ignored. Democrats need to strategize and use a different playbook. They cannot rely on symbolic optics alone.
There is room for optimism. According to HIT Strategies BlackTrack polling, there are signs of improvement since this confirmation process started …
More Black voters than not say they would be motivated to vote because of the unfair treatment Jackson received. Also …
Those show improvements, but it’s still clearly not enough and anything could get disrupted between now and November. Black voters will need to see actual resources in hand and an acute change in their conditions. Let’s hope Democrats are truly paying attention to this. We’ll see.