Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court hearing was a political spectacle

March 25, 2022, 1:30 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! A Russian journalist was killed covering the war in Ukraine, ‘Marjorie with a brain’ vies to unseat Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Ketanji Brown Jackson made it through grueling Supreme Court hearings. Have a restful weekend.

– Closing arguments. It’s been a long week. For us journalists, for news consumers, and certainly for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who on Thursday wrapped her fourth and final day of Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Jackson’s confirmation was about more than just one seat on the bench. The historic nature of her confirmation as the first Black female SCOTUS nominee became all the more clear over the course of the hearings. Democrats touted the magnitude of her appointment, while Republicans grilled Jackson on her sentencing record and stance on social issues.

Let’s start with the good. As Jackson settled into her seat Monday, a photographer captured a note written by her family that said, “You got this!” Her husband, Patrick Jackson, teared up in the crowd as Jackson described in her opening statement the path that led her to the Supreme Court nomination, from her parents’ move from Florida to Washington, D.C. to watching her father study law in night school.

Later, photographers, including the New York Times’ Sarahbeth Maney, captured a shot of Jackson’s 17-year-old daughter, Leila Jackson, beaming with pride at her mom. Jackson addressed her two daughters directly in her opening remarks: “Girls, I know it has not been easy as I have tried to navigate the challenges of juggling my career and motherhood. And I fully admit that I did not always get the balance right. But I hope that you have seen that with hard work, determination, and love, it can be done.”

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks during her Supreme Court nomination while her daughter Leila and husband Patrick smile.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks during her Supreme Court nomination while her daughter Leila and husband Patrick smile.
Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images

Sen. Cory Booker acted as a cheerleader for Jackson, telling the nominee that he couldn’t look at her without thinking of his own mother and aunt, and at one point asked Jackson what it means to be a mom in America today.

That emotional support was much needed, as the GOP response to Jackson proved to be grueling. Sens. Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Josh Hawley led the charge on questioning that suggested Jackson is soft on terrorism and even anti-American. As a federal public defender, she represented detainees at Guantanamo Bay; Graham fixated on a legal filing in which he said she called President George W. Bush and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “war criminals.” The senators also accused her of being lenient on sentencing for child pornography offenders (she handed down sentences in line with evolving sentencing guidelines) and promoting “woke” education like critical race theory.

Though Democrats lavished Jackson with praisein their opening statements and questioning, they did relatively little to intervene in their GOP colleagues’ attacks. Even Booker, who repeatedly interrupted Republicans’ tirades to provide Jackson some respite, offered more of an emotional pep talk. As Dahlia Lithwick writes for Slate: “If you have been subject to abuse, bullying, and intimidation, what you really don’t need to hear from people in power is that they think you are ‘brave,’ or that you’re modeling perseverance and grace. What you really want is for someone to stand beside you and take a punch—or throw one.”

Some 23 hours of questioning later, the hearings are over. Jackson made it through a marathon process that while not easy for any nominee, was ugly in a way that’s impossible to extricate from the judge’s race and gender.

Republicans have been quick to point out that Justice Brett Kavanaugh was similarly grilled by Democratic lawmakers during his 2018 confirmation hearings, following sexual misconduct allegations. And the left certainly pressed Justice Amy Coney Barrett on Roe v. Wade. But the questions at play during those confirmation processes were based on credible allegations, rather than a misleading portrayal in an effort to relitigate past hearings.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to vote on bringing Jackson’s nomination to the floor on April 4, and a Senate vote would follow by the end of that week. If confirmed, she’ll not only make history, but have an outsized impact from the nation’s highest court on decisions that affect women and people of color for years to come.

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet is Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Today’s edition was curated by Paige McGlauflin. Subscribe here.


- More politics. Former President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee over the 2016 presidential election. He says the parties involved falsely tied him to Russia six years ago. Plus: new reporting by the Washington Post shows that Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, urged White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to take steps to overturn the 2020 election results, just as Trump and allies were preparing to go before the Supreme Court. 

- Abortion benefits. Apple, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and New York City-based startup Alloy have joined the ranks of employers offering reproductive care benefits, including travel stipends for employees in states that have limited abortion access. Similarly, medical students studying in states that have imposed restrictions on abortion training procedures face a harsh reality, reports Kaiser Health News: stay in-state for their residency, and miss out on information crucial to their profession, or travel to another state to get the training they need.

- Ukraine casualty. Russian journalist Oksana Baulina was killed by shelling while filming the destruction of the Podil district of Kyiv, making her at least the fifth journalist to die covering the war in Ukraine. A civilian was killed and two people accompanying her were wounded and hospitalized from the same incident. Baulina was working with independent Russian news site the Insider at the time of her death, and had previously fled Russia when her former employer, Anti-Corruption Foundation, was designated as an extremist organization. Washington Post

- Awards ready. The Oscars are this Sunday, with several women nominated for major awards, from Power of the Dog director Jane Campion to Coda director Sian Heder, whose film is up for best picture. Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, and Regina Hall are set to host. Ahead of the ceremony, Halle Berry reflected on her own best actress win 20 years ago: "It didn’t open the door,” she says of being the first Black woman to win the prize. "The fact that there’s no one standing next to me is heartbreaking." New York Times

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Zoom alum Mila Ferrell has joined VC firm Cervin as a partner. DreamBox Learning promoted Dianna Winegarden to chief customer officer. Away co-founder and CEO Jennifer Rubio is joining the board of directors at Scripps Research. Contentful has named Mairead O’Donovan  chief product officer and Søren Abildgaard  executive vice president of engineering. Lindsey Spindle has been appointed president of Samueli Family Philanthropies and chief operating officer of H&S Ventures.

Correction: Katie Anderson has been named chief financial officer of Neiman Marcus Group, not CEO. 


- Heated race.  Two women are among the five candidates vying to unseat Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) in the upcoming midterm election. Jennifer Strahan, a health care executive, is challenging Greene within her own party ranks. She has been dubbed by another conservative Georgian as “Marjorie with a brain." The New Yorker

- Royal radio. Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex's long-awaited Spotify podcast is finally set to launch. The series, “Archetypes,” will feature “uncensored conversations” with guests, including experts and historians, on stereotypes that have historically affected women and held them back. The Sussexes signed their deal with Spotify in 2020, and the podcast is slated to debut this summer. Variety

- On Target. Athleisure brand Jolie Noire, led by sisters Keyondra and Kimberly Lockett, has made its way onto Target’s sales floors. The Black-owned brand was founded in 2018 and aims to diversify the fashion industry, offering clothing in sizes small to 5XL. Keyondra is also making waves in the music industry, where her gospel music has earned her two Stellar Award nominations. Essence

- Equal-opportunity jerks.  Men are often excused for their sexist behavior when they’re perceived as being rude to both men and women, according to a University of Virginia study. The tactic, dubbed the equal-opportunity jerk defense, can be used to disguise sexism in the workplace and makes it difficult for women to call out male colleagues for sexist conduct, especially if the behavior is deemed gender blind. MEL Magazine


There’s a life coach for everything these days HuffPost

Arooj Aftab, the brightest new star at this year’s Grammys The Guardian

Who is the girlboss now? The Cut


“I live out loud. I recognize there are not a lot of Black women in these positions. Do I wish that sometimes I could be 'just like everyone else'? Of course … But the truth of the matter is, I’m not.”

-Bozoma Saint John, responding to criticism that she elevated her personal brand too much while serving as chief marketing officer at Netflix.

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