What Kentaji Brown Jackson’s nomination means for the future of the Supreme Court
Following the one term of Donald Trump, the Supreme Court has been firmly tilted in a rightward direction. Trump appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court in his four years in office, one more than President Barack Obama was able to appoint in his eight years in office. Of course, Obama nominated Merrick Garland in 2016 following the death of Justice Scalia. But, due to conservative control of the Senate and obstruction by then Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, Garland’s nomination never came to pass. As a result, the Supreme Court holds a 6-3 conservative majority. Additionally, Trump appointed over 200 judges to appeals and district courts. It wouldn’t be controversial to say that a fundamental shift in judicial balance is the most consequential achievement of the Trump presidency.
But President Biden has done his best to counter Trump’s actions. According to Ballotpedia, Biden has successfully appointed 59 judges to the federal bench since the beginning of his term. So far, the most high profile of Biden’s judicial appointments has been his nomination of Kentaji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. Jackson would replace Stephen Breyer, a liberal who was first appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton. Due to Breyer’s advanced age, the extremely delicate Democratic majority in the senate and the already conservative-leaning court, Breyer was under immediate pressure to retire following the 2020 election.
It was an understandable reaction given the memories many have of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s decision not to retire prior to the 2014 midterms. At the time, Democrats controlled both the Presidency and the Senate, but faced a daunting election that would ultimately hand Republicans a majority they would hold until 2021. Ginsburg herself was 87 years old at the time of her death and twice fought cancer. Though Ginsburg is still widely respected amongst Democrats, her decision not to step down has led to headaches for the party, now faced with a firmly conservative Supreme Court.
Jackson would act as a counter to the successful appointments of relatively young conservative jurists. Jackson is 51 years old, just one year older than Amy Coney Barrett, the controversial justice appointed by President Trump just weeks before the 2020 presidential election. To put that into context, if she remains on the court until the same age that Ruth Bader Ginsburg did (no small task, mind you) she would be on the court till 2058!
Jackson also represents a significant shift in who presidents nominate for these positions. Jackson is the first justice who previously served as a public defender. Not to mention she is the first Black woman appointed to the nation’s highest court. While Republicans may attack Jackson as “soft on crime,” her confirmation suggests a shift in Democratic philosophy in terms of judicial appointments that could mold a court more amenable to the rights of the accused. Something that is crucial for major criminal justice reform.
Granted, Jackson may not have the opportunity to lead any major majority opinions for liberal causes anytime soon. After all, the court remains tilted conservative. Liberals on the court have had to rely on the three most moderate conservatives: Chief Justice John Roberts, and Associate Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. While these three could never be confused for liberals, they offer the best opportunity for the court’s three liberals to do damage control and keep in check the more radical rulings the court might hand down.
None of this should suggest the courts are a small or inconsequential matter. Due to the appointments of Donald Trump, women’s access to health care has come under a more concentrated threat than any other time in the last four decades. Anti-abortion groups see now as their moment to overturn Roe v. Wade, and, by extension, rob America’s women of necessary health care and potentially endanger their lives. Restrictive abortion bans in states accross the country are a direct threat to the health of women in these states. Most importantly, poor women who will not be able to access the necessary health care in other states where abortions are permitted.
“Beyond Roe” Conservatives openly opine on the overturning of other cases too, like Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruling which allowed married couples the right to purchase contraceptives. It will not end at Roe v. Wade. That is merely the first step for social conservatives looking to roll back rights fought for decades to gain.
If one good thing comes out of the Trump presidency, let it be that America’s political left has a greater concern for the Supreme Court.
George Chirstopher is a third-year journalism major who waited on the steps of the court for weeks to deliver this report. They can be reached at [email protected].