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The Supreme Court Is Our Enemy, with or without Ketanji Brown Jackson

Confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson were a show of racist and sexist right-wing attacks. But while Judge Jackson’s nomination is significant and we must denounce the sexist and racist attacks against her, we can be under no illusions that the Supreme Court is or will be on the side of working class and oppressed people.

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(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson concluded on Thursday after four days in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court follows Justice Stephen Breyer’s announcement in late January that he would retire, after which president Biden promised to nominate a Black woman. The Senate confirmation vote is expected to take place by mid-April.

Republican senators used the hearing to go on at length about their right-wing agenda — against trans rights, against teaching about racism, and more. They also used it to both grill Jackson with not-so-subtle racist assumptions, as well as perpetuate the myth that Brett Kavanaugh was a “victim” of “vicious attacks.” 

Many progressives have correctly pointed out the racist double standards evident in the hearing: Kavanaugh was credibly accused of sexual assault, and then proceeded to cry, bang on the table, and yell — and yet he was confirmed to the Supreme Court. If Jackson had exhibited any of these behaviors, there is no way she would be confirmed; Black women don’t have the luxury of those outbursts. 

It’s also true that the United States has kept Black women from the highest echelons of power and had 108 white men on the Supreme Court. Jackson’s ascension to this position is highly significant, and points to the profound effects of several decades of social and political movements.

But there is another maneuver at play in these hearings: re-legitimizing the Supreme Court and American democracy. Democrats are trying to rebuild the legitimacy of the racist system, claiming that it is reformable by putting oppressed people in the highest positions in the country to legitimize that oppression. But the Supreme Court is deeply undemocratic and a weapon against oppressed people, one we must fight against, with or without Jackson on the court. 

The Supreme Court Is Undemocratic 

The Supreme Court has always been a pillar of systemic racism and oppression, from the flagrantly racist days of Plessy v. Ferguson to the less blatant, but still racist rulings of today. It is no coincidence up until Judge Jackson, there were no Black women on the Court. 

But including a Black woman does not change the Court’s undemocratic and oppressive nature.

The Supreme Court is one of the least democratic aspects of the United States’ undemocratic “democracy.” Nine unelected people have the right to sit on the court for life. They sit in their mansions and beautiful Washington, D.C. offices, they golf together, and they schmooze with the same big name politicians, all while having the power to make huge decisions about the lives of people all over the country. 

Writer and activist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor put it well on Twitter: “No person is ‘qualified’ for a lifetime appointment to make decisions affecting the lives of millions with absolutely no accountability to the public. The SCOTUS is an affront to democracy & we shouldn’t forget that, no matter how awful the GOP behaves.” 

Due to a few progressive decisions like Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education, some believe that the Supreme Court can be a positive force for change. This ignores the fact that in the vast majority of cases, the Supreme Court makes reactionary decisions that uphold capitalism, racism, and imperialism. Take Citizens United, which in 2010 reversed campaign finance restrictions and allowed wealthy donors and corporations to donate unlimited amounts to political candidates under the guise of “free speech.” And now this very same court is poised to take away abortion rights around the country. 

The idea that the Supreme Court is progressive is a rewriting of history. The only reason it has taken progressive steps is when a mass leftist movement has forced them to. This was certainly the case with Civil Rights, as well as the right to an abortion. 

Racist, Sexist Double Standards

At the same time, the confirmation hearing for Jackson was a show of infuriating and reactionary politics. It was full of right-wing racist and sexist attacks and disingenuous questions. The right-wing crusade on “critical race theory” was on full display, as seen by this GOP tweet which show’s Jackson’s initials crossed out with “CRT” added next to her picture, with a link to loaded questions for her. Senator Marsha Blackburn pointedly asked Jackson, “Is it your personal hidden agenda to incorporate critical race theory into our legal system? These are answers that American people need to know.” 

Ted Cruz came armed with children’s books, asking ridiculous questions like, “Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racist?” while an aide displayed enlarged images from the children’s book “Antiracist Baby” by Ibram X. Kendi. Lindsay Graham repeatedly and disrespectfully interrupted her answers to his questions. 

Right-wing attacks included “soft on crime” rhetoric, despite Jackson being endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and International Association of Chiefs of Police. Senators Josh Hawley and Marsha Blackburn brought up past child pornography cases in which they say that Jackson was lenient, which also played to the popular Qanon conspiracy theory among the GOP base. Blackburn asked, “I can only wonder what’s your hidden agenda. Is it to let violent criminals, cop killers and child predators back to the streets?” This also included claims of “helping the terrorists” due to being a public defender assigned to detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

The Supreme Court is Our Enemy, With or Without Ketanji Brown Jackson

But while Judge Jackson’s nomination is significant and we must denounce the sexist and racist attacks against her, we can be under no illusions that she would be a progressive force for change on the Court — in fact, she doesn’t even pretend to be. Judge Jackson herself repeatedly made sure to highlight how she’s “moderate,” “neutral”, and “impartial.” It is clear that she intends to uphold the oppressive status quo. 

This has been her trajectory throughout her life. A Washington Post article describes her time at Harvard by saying, “As other Black students at Harvard took to the streets to confront college officials about issues of race and equality, Jackson counseled moderation.” One of her roommates from Harvard had this to say about her: “There were always more radical people who wanted to push her off the middle. But Jackson argued against protests that might alienate the very people she wanted to persuade.”

As a judge, Jackson has issued multiple rulings against climate groups, siding with corporations and even with Donald Trump. For example, environmental groups sued the Trump administration for waiving environmental laws to build the racist border wall. In 2019, Jackson ruled in favor of Trump and allowed the construction of the wall to continue.

And that wasn’t the only time. She also ruled in favor of the Enbridge-owned Flanagan South Pipeline. Environmental groups argued that the federal government should have conducted an environmental review of the entire pipeline, but Jackson ruled against them. 

In her confirmation hearing, Jackson made sure to give signals that she was not a Black Lives Matter activist, or an activist of any sort. She touted the police officers in her family, and the fact that police unions support her — code for siding against the movement to defund the police.

Legitimizing a Racist, Capitalist System 

Cory Booker’s widely shared speech at the confirmation hearing makes clear what Jackson’s nomination is about. He proclaimed Judge Jackson his “harbinger of hope” that the United States could live up to its promises of freedom and equality.” He continued, “This country gets better and better and better. When that final vote happens, and you ascend onto the highest court in the land, I’m going to rejoice. And I’m going to tell you right now, the greatest country in the world, the United States of America, will be better because of you.”

Democrats are eager to push Jackson through the process to finally get something done after the heavily watered down Build Back Better and voting rights legislation, rising inflation, and ongoing international tensions as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. After all, Biden promised that he would nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. Jackson’s confirmation would allow Biden and Democrats to pander to the millions of people who mobilized as part of the BLM movement while conducting business as usual: letting killer cops go free, increasing police funding, and failing to deliver voting rights.

But the truth is that Jackson is about to join a right-wing Supreme Court poised to take away abortion rights. She’s going to play an integral role in relegitimizing a Supreme Court that is increasingly questioned by the public — a crisis that many justices, including Sonya Sotomayor and Amy Coney Barrett, are worried about.  As leftists, we should continue to question the court for it’s undemocratic and oppressive nature. As opposed to what Cory Booker would have us believe, we know that representation is not liberation.

The Supreme Court is the enemy of the working class and oppressed people; it’s an undemocratic institution whose legitimacy will be used to attack the most oppressed sectors of society. Rather than entertaining illusions and holding out hope for progressive judges to protect the ever-diminishing rights our predecessors won in the streets, we have to revive the working-class tactics that won us those rights in the first place — and fight to overthrow the system that is designed to suppress them.

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.

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