A burden a high achieving Black woman often has to face is restating her qualifications in order to appease white men.
There are a number of things that are fundamentally wrong about how new Supreme Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was treated at her confirmation hearing, but for the sake of this article, I will focus on pointing out the flaws in Senator Ted Cruz’s line of questioning and behavior.
During the confirmation hearing of Justice Jackson, an obvious strategy emerged from Senator Ted Cruz’s questioning. Cruz attempted to draw Judge Jackson and all spectators in with positive affirmations and claims that they had a positive relationship, going back all the way to their law school days.
I say there is a clear strategy here because after trying to appear chummy with her, he segues into showing glowing admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Senator Cruz then quoted King’s dream of a world where children would be judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” — before pointedly questioning Judge Jackson about her views on critical race theory and her sentencing history.
The utilization of this quote by Republican politicians has in recent time grown into a new dog-whistle. This is a strategy because MLK’s statement is an easily agreeable statement, however, republican politicians such as Cruz, and even Gov. Ron Desantis, utilize that quote in order to turn around its meaning.
The quote comes from King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and he was writing it at a time in which the civil rights movement was the only hope for Black Americans to actually be seen by the content of their character, rather than the color of their skin. Politicians use quotes like this one as a defense for any teaching, ironically, about the civil rights movement. They do not want children to learn about why Dr. King wrote such a statement, and yet they bastardize his quote to protect the feelings of their white constituents.
Republican legislators have been framing the issues as attacks on white people, — “reverse racism.” The goal here from such legislators and political pundits is to frame any assessment of racism and racist systems as judging white people based on the color of their skin rather than the “content of their character” – This usage of MLK’s quote then becomes a “gotcha” or “catch all” to silence people of color.
By calling any critique of how racism pollutes the white subconscious and our country “racist,” these Republican legislators are essentially flipping the quote against people of color, pointing and calling them the “true racists”. They are effectively attempting to silence any discussion about racism, in order to protect the feelings of white people.
I would, however, like to focus on the excellence of Judge Jackson, and the absurd line of questioning that she gracefully endured from Senator Cruz.
To further assess what is fundamentally wrong with Cruz’s strategy in this line of questioning, we see several attempts to “gotcha” Judge Jackson in regards to the topic of “Critical Race Theory.”
To begin with, Cruz’s strategy further unfolds as he brings up Judge Jackson’s speech from a few years earlier that was about the accomplishments of Black women in America, and Cruz points out that in that speech she had mentioned the Black woman who founded the 1619 project, Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Cruz pulls this stunt in an attempt to trick Judge Jackson into falling into an ideology that he claims to be false. Following this attempt, Cruz moves into the subject of ‘Critical Race Theory’ which he and Judge Jacskon both agreed is an area of legal study for law students. However, Cruz argues that that area of theory is entirely marxist and views “every conflict as a racial conflict.”
Judge Jackson gracefully handles these attempts to corner her, however Cruz still persists with this topic by bringing up another speech she gave in which she lightly mentions critical race theory when listing off several areas of law. Cruz then conflates this statement of hers by arguing that what she does is critical race theory, however, Judge Jackson notes that he has misconstrued what she had really been saying. Cruz then cuts her off as she is trying to answer his questions.
Next up Cruz asks her a question about Critical Race Theory that is unrelated to her experience as a job and therefore irrelevant to this hearing: “Is critical race theory taught in schools?” She attempts to note that it is not related to her job, and as she said before, her understanding would be that since Critical Race Theory is an area of legal study, that it is not taught in k-12 education.
Cruz’s strategy here is to find some sort of “proof” for republicans to validate their misguided outrage at Critical Race Theory being taught in schools, which is simply not happening.
Then Cruz brings up the confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett and compares the position she had with a school with christian anti-abortion and homophobic beliefs. This was not the only attempt that a senator made to compare prior hearings for supreme court nominee’s to Judge Jacksons hearing, later on in the hearing Senator Lindsey Graham had gone off task in attempting to compare her hearing to Brett Kavanaughs, even going as far to ask her about her religious beliefs and how often she attends church. Senator Graham then stormed out of the room in frustration.
The school that Judge Jackson works with is fundamentally different from the one that Amy Coney barret had worked with, having been founded in 1945 at a time in which by law there was racial segregation in schools. This private school was founded with an even split of black and white families in order to foster an education for their children that does not segregate them. Justice and equality as Judge Jackson explains, is at the core values of the schools mission.
Cruz then says “So Judge Jackson, all of us would agree that no one should be discriminated against because of race” then criticizes Jackson’s previous statement that she “did not know” whether critical race theory was taught in schools, claiming that the curriculum is “filled and overflowing with critical race theory” which is ironic considering that Senator cruz had earlier recognized that Critical Race Theory is an area of legal scholarly study, that one studies typically at the law school level, this claim I too, find to be concerning. Does he or does he not know what critical race theory is?
His strategy here is clear however, to politicize it, and use it against Judge Jackson in order to not only demonize critical race theory, but align her with it, with the end goal of hurting her chances at being a Supreme Court justice. It is unfair to direct the topic of Critical Race Theory onto Judge Jackson because it does not directly relate to her work as a judge, and Black people are not a monolith and should not be treated as if they all have the same views. Asking her to speak on the subject was not fair.
Senator Cruz then continues to dig into the topic of Critical Race Theory by listing out books that he claims to be critical race theory, including the books of Ibraham X. Kendi. Senator Cruz demonstrates an unfair picture of these books by cherry picking statements, and making claims that kendi’s argument is opposite of King’s.
Then, moving on from the topic of Critical Race Theory, Senator Cruz claims that Judge Jackson has a pattern of advocacy that concerns sexual predators while inaccurately explaining her law school thesis. Not only does Cruz argues that her note advocates for the striking down of laws related to sexual predators but he also inaccurately claims that this argument of hers would release sexual predators. He is strategically painting her work in a negative light by posing her questions revolving around sentencing as statements/arguments/opinions.
This is also harmful because he is obfuscating her position on sentencing relating to child pornography, and paints a picture of her sentencing habits as not harsh enough. What Cruz’s point here lacks is any consideration for other factors that are considered in sentencing decisions, and he is also blatantly ignoring the fact that congress imposes these sentencing guidelines. Congress themselves say that sentencing is not supposed to be a numbers game but rather a look at all of these factors for making a determination. Judge Jackson explains that as congress directs, judges have to consider other factors.
Despite all of the ignorant attempts to “gotcha” Judge Jackson, the beauty of her insight and capabilities as a judge have shined through. Jackson stated that “one of the things that having diverse members of the court does is it provides for the opportunity for role models. Since I was nominated to this position, I have received so many notes and letters and photos from little girls around the country who tell me that they are so excited for this opportunity … because I am a woman, a Black woman” when asked about the significance of her nomination. Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing has, if anything, amplified the importance of having her on the Supreme Court, and demonstrates the struggle for Black women who have had to navigate white spaces, particularly in the legal system, who are overqualified and constantly underestimated.