Ketanji Brown Jackson delivered an emotional speech at a White House celebration of her confirmation to the Supreme Court Friday — quoting the poet Maya Angelou to declare, “I am the dream and the hope of the slave.”
Jackson, 51, will be the Supreme Court’s third black member — following current Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Thurgood Marshall — and its first black woman.
“The path was cleared for me so that I might rise to this occasion. And in the poetic words of Dr. Maya Angelou, I do so now while ‘bringing the gifts my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave,’” Jackson said, her voice wavering with emotion on the White House lawn.
“I strongly believe that this is a moment in which all Americans can take great pride,” Jackson added. “We have come a long way toward perfecting our union. In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.”
The judge, who will replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, said that “it’s been somewhat overwhelming, in a good way, to recently be flooded with thousands of notes and cards and photos expressing just how much this moment means to so many people.”
“The notes that I’ve received from children are particularly cute and especially meaningful because more than anything, they speak directly to the hope and promise of America,” Jackson went on.
“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it,” she said to cheers. “We’ve made it. All of us, all of us. And our children are telling me that they see now more than ever that here in America, anything is possible.”
Jackson is a mother of two and currently sits on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
The celebration went ahead despite a large number of White House aides, journalists and members of Congress testing positive for COVID-19. Many of the cases are linked to the white-tie Gridiron Club diner held April 2.
“I am standing on the shoulders of my own role models — generations of Americans who never had anything close to this kind of opportunity, but who got up every day and went to work believing in the promise of America, showing others through their determination and yes, their perseverance, that good things can be done in this great country,” Jackson said in her remarks.
“From my grandparents on both sides, who had only a grade school education but instilled in my parents the importance of learning. To my parents, who went to racially segregated schools growing up and were the first in their families to have the chance to go to college. I am also ever buoyed by the leadership of generations past who helped to light the way — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Justice Thurgood Marshall and my personal heroine, Judge Constance Baker Motley.”
Jackson added: “They and so many others did the heavy lifting that made this day possible. And for all of the talk of this historic nomination and now confirmation, I think of them as the true path-breakers. I am just the very lucky first inheritor of the dream of liberty and justice for all.”
Biden praised Jackson and slammed Republican senators for their at times contentious questioning in the Senate Judiciary Committee on matters such as sentences Jackson handed down in child pornography cases.
“I knew the person I nominated would be put through a painful and difficult confirmation process. But I have to tell you, what Judge Jackson was put through was well beyond that — the verbal abuse, the anger, constant interruptions, the most vile, baseless assertions and accusations. In the face of it all, Judge Jackson showed the incredible character and integrity she possesses,” Biden said.
The Senate voted 53-47 on Thursday to confirm Jackson. All 50 Democrats as well as Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah voted to confirm her.