The Honorable Judge Bernice Donald couples the distinction of multiple firsts in the judicial profession with the self-embraced responsibility to “work hard to make sure that there is a second, and a third and, a fourth and so on.”
The trailblazing U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit Court Judge detailed that commitment last fall during an interview in which talked about her upcoming transition into semi-retirement, opening a path for President Joe Biden to nominate her successor.
On Friday, Biden stepped toward a historic first, choosing federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy to result from the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer this coming summer. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Jackson, 51, would be the first African-American woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.
“This is an exciting moment in the history of our country,” said Donald, the first African-American female judge in Tennessee, the first African-American woman appointed to serve as a U.S. bankruptcy judge (and the only African American in the South), and the first African-American woman to serve on the U.S. Sixth Circuit bench.
Her elation at Biden’s nomination of Jackson was echoed in various quarters of Memphis by numerous African-American women with overlapping perspectives.
“It is a culminating moment in the fight, the struggle, the perseverance of our ancestors,” continued Donald. “I have always believed in the diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, and experience. We have never had an African-American woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
It is, said Donald, “a moment like that moment when Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor (the first female associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, (1981-2006)….We all have blind spots. We read the law, but we interpret it through the lens of our experiences.…”
Like Donald, Jackson is a former public defender.
“Ketanji Brown Jackson has represented poor people who had no voice. She understands what it is like for the full weight of the state to be against them, and the importance of advocacy in that moment…a well-rounded judicial figure who is the personification of ‘justice for all.’”
Memphis Municipal Court Judge Jayne R. Chandler said news that a Black woman would be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court reminded her of a “book that should have been written long ago – like the book of Constance Baker Motley, the first African-American woman to become a federal judge in 1966….
“I thought of a book that sat on the shelf for so long, waiting to be written, now overdue….For so long, we have not been a part of ‘We the People.’ But with the confirmation of a Black woman to the Supreme Court, that book, long overdue, can now be written.”
State Sen. Raumesh Akbari said, “As a Black woman and a lawyer, the nomination of Judge Jackson is a dream realized. I remember visiting the U.S. Supreme Court in eighth grade and thinking about the possibility of someone who looks like me sitting on the nation’s high court. Today, President Biden has brought us one step closer to making it happen.”
Acknowledging Jackson as a “preeminently qualified jurist with nearly unmatched professional credentials,” Akbari said, “I encourage (Tennessee GOP) Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty to support a fair and timely hearing and vote for her historic confirmation.”
Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer said, “As a Black woman, this is a historical moment to witness. As an elected Black woman, the moment is especially profound. We continue to push against glass ceilings that society raises higher and rebuilds every time we rise.”
Jackson is going to face a tough confirmation process, said Sawyer.
“Because she is a Black woman they will doubt her qualifications, they will question her durability, they will complain about her hair, and they will decry affirmative action and identity politics.
“They will ignore the fact that American laws subjugate Black women’s existence at every turn and having a representative on the highest court in the land is the least of all we deserve.”
Memphis City Councilmember Patrice Jordan Robinson hailed Jackson’s nomination as “a very important and righteous moment in the history of our country. I encourage and support the appointment of the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. We deserve to be represented with the opportunity, the voice, and the position of justice.”
Memphis businesswoman Deidre Malone, the first African-American chairwoman of the Shelby County Commission and the first woman to win a major party nomination for Shelby County mayor, said President Biden made an excellent choice with the nomination of Jackson.
“I was thrilled by the nomination and proud that as an African-American woman, we will now have someone who understands not just women’s issues, but African-American women’s issues and the African-American family. I hope women of color see this nomination as advancement for us all.”
State Rep. Barbara Cooper, who is 92, said, “In my lifetime, in my lifetime, I shall witness a Black woman sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
It is, said Cooper, an extraordinary moment “like the election of President Barak Obama, a moment like the swearing in of Vice-President Kamala Harris. It is a moment we are all being blessed to witness in our lifetime. At age 92, I am excited. I am delighted.”