You may have heard some buzz about the Supreme Court recently. 

In January, one of the nine Justices of the Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer, announced his retirement. Recently, President Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace him. Now, she must be confirmed by the Senate. If confirmed, Judge Jackson will be only the sixth woman, and first Black woman, to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. 

During his presidential campaign, Biden promised that if given the opportunity, he would select a Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. The nominee would be only the sixth woman, and the first Black woman, to sit on the Supreme Court. To understand why this is so important, let’s take a look at the function and history of the Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court:

  • Justices are nominated by the sitting president and confirmed by the Senate after a hearing (this serves sort of like an interview process). It takes 51 votes, a simple majority, to confirm a Justice. They hold their seat on the court for life or until they decide to retire. 
  • There are three ways a case can reach the Supreme Court. 
    • About 5% of cases come from “Original Jurisdiction.” These are cases that involve ambassadors or diplomats, or in which a state is a party. 
    • Almost 30% of cases come from state courts. Through appeals, a case can make its way from the state trial courts to intermediate appellate courts to the state supreme court, and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court—if the case raises a constitutional question. 
    •  Over 65% of cases come from federal courts. Cases involving federal law are first tried in federal district courts, and then, through appeals, can move up to the circuit court of appeals, and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court. 
  • When the majority of the Justices reach a decision, they write an “opinion” explaining their legal reasoning. Justices who disagree with the majority opinion can author a “dissenting opinion.”  
  • The opinions of the justices are very important because they become “precedent,” meaning they are referred to by all other judges for use in their own decision-making process. One opinion can affect court cases for years to come. 
  • Why is the Supreme Court so important? Here are some issues they’ve decided on during the court’s history
    • The Death Penalty
    • Gender Discrimination in Schools and Hiring Practices 
    • Pay Discrimination
    • Strip Searches
    • Affirmative Action
    • The Use of Confederate Flags
    • Right to Search Suspects 

Race, Gender & the Supreme Court:

  • In the history of the Supreme Court there have been 5 female Justices and only ONE has been a woman of color: 
    • Sandra Day O’Conner- nominated in 1981
    • Ruth Bader Ginsberg- nominated in 1993
    • Sonya Sotomayor- nominated in 2009 (currently sitting) (Latina)
    • Elena Kagan- nominated in 2010 (currently sitting)
    • Amy Coney Barrett- nominated in 2020 (currently sitting)
  • There have only been two black Justices on the court, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. 
  • If confirmed, President Biden’s nomination will only be the 8th person in the court’s history 233-year history that will not be a white man. 
  • There has still never been an openly LGBTQ, Asian American, Native American, or Pacific Islander Supreme Court Justice. 

What happens next? Confirmation hearings will begin Monday, March 21st

Want to get involved? Use our resources to find your Senators’ contact information. Share your thoughts and express your opinion on the nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.