Hours after she was formally sworn in at the Supreme Court on Friday, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson gave a rousing speech at the Library of Congress, saying that since her appointment, she has been approached by people from “all walks of life” with what she called “a profound sense of pride in what feels to me like renewed ownership.”
“I can see it in their eyes,” Jackson said. “They say this: ‘This is what we can accomplish if we put our minds to it.'”
“They’re saying to me, in essence you, ‘You go girl,'” she said. “‘We see you, and we are with you.'”
She said she was “humbled by the fanfare” surrounding her confirmation but added that she knows it is “not about me.”
“The people who approach, and especially the young people, they are seeing themselves portrayed in me, in my experience, and they are finally believing that anything is possible in this great country,” she added.
Jackson took the judicial oath Friday at a special sitting of the Supreme Court attended by President Joe Biden as well as legal luminaries from across Washington who gathered to celebrate the first time a Black woman has taken her seat on the highest court in the land.
Chief Justice John Roberts wished Jackson a “long and happy career in our common calling.”
Biden did not speak during the brief ceremony.
The investiture was purely ceremonial, as Jackson has been on the job since June and already cast votes on emergency applications. But she has yet to sit for oral arguments, and Friday marked her debut in the regal chamber that will now be her professional home for the next few decades.
At the beginning of Friday’s ceremony, Jackson sat in the well of the chamber in a chair used by Chief Justice John Marshall during the early 19th century. The court is steeped in tradition, and the session was opened when Gail Curley, the Marshal of the Court, banged the gavel and introduced the Court with the traditional cry that begins includes the familiar words “oyez, oyez, oyez.”
The eight justices, including three women, Justice Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Amy Coney Barrett smiled broadly. Retired Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced his retirement last June, looked on from a seat in the audience as Jackson, his former clerk, took his place.
After Scott Harris, the Clerk of the Court, read Jackson’s Commission, she was escorted to the bench and Roberts administered the Judicial Oath.
The audience included Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the high court by President Barack Obama in 2016 but was blocked from serving when Republicans refused to hold hearings. On Friday, he sat with Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar and Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher at the counsel table in front of the bench.
Also in the audience was Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff as well as Jackson’s two daughters, Leila and Talia, her parents Ellery and Johnny Brown, her brother Ketajh and former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican related to Brown by marriage.
Several spouses of the justices sat in a special section including conservative activist Ginni Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, who appeared yesterday before the House select committee investigating January 6 insurrection to testify about her activities around the 2020 election.
Key Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones — who was Jackson’s “sherpa” during the confirmation process — attended.
After the ceremony, Jackson walked down the steps in front of the Supreme Court with Roberts and was met by her husband Dr. Patrick G. Jackson.
At the Library of Congress, Jackson acknowledged the challenge ahead.
“And as I undertake the role of an associate justice, there is no doubt that I will have my share of pure bad luck. I will have promoters and I will have detractors, but with your support and God’s grace … I will keep moving. Thank you all, thank you all so much. I am truly grateful,” Jackson said. “I have a seat at the table now. I have a seat at the table now, and I’m ready to work.”
Jackson’s investiture comes on the eve of a new term and two days after the justices met for the first time in their annual closed-door conference to discuss pending petitions. Last term closed with an array of opinions that divided the court along ideological lines and the landmark opinion of Dobbs v. Jackson, that overturned Roe v. Wade.
The upcoming term will feature cases where race plays a dominant role, including a challenge to college affirmative action plans as well as a dispute concerning the scope of a key section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race.
Jackson, the nation’s first Black female justice, will navigate those issues and others during her first term. Five months ago, she stood on the South Lawn of the White House after her confirmation and spoke about the “gifts my ancestors gave.” Quoting the poet Dr. Maya Angelou, Jackson added, “I am the dream and the hope of a slave.”
This story has been updated with additional details.
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