Thursday, March 3, 2022

Women's history -- We see it in the making -- Column of March 3, 2022


It’s hard to imagine a better start to Women’s History Month.

As President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address March 1, Kamala Harris, the first woman and first woman of color elected Vice President, and Nancy Pelosi, the first woman Speaker of the House, sat in the power seats behind him.

Next to first lady Jill Biden in the gallery was Ukraine ambassador Oksana Markarova. Prompted by Biden to show their support of the brave Ukrainians at war with Russia, the assembled leaders of the federal government gave the ambassador thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

Days before, Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to the Supreme Court.

“For too long, our government, our courts, haven’t looked like America,” Biden said Feb. 25, announcing his first Supreme Court pick. “I believe it’s time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation, with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Jackson will become the fourth woman associate justice on the nine-member court. Her addition will not change the ideological makeup of six conservative and three liberal justices.

Biden has praised Jackson as “one of our nation’s top legal minds,” a “consensus builder” and her experience as a former federal public defender.

Jackson, 51, a Harvard University and Law School graduate, would replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who is retiring and for whom she was a law clerk early in her career.

Beyond being a historic first, Jackson, a former special counsel to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, would also bring to the court a unique personal and professional perspective on criminal justice.

Her uncle received a life sentence in 1989 for a nonviolent drug crime under a “three-strikes” law. Year later, President Barack Obama years commuted the harsh  sentence, The Washington Post reported.

Confirmation hearings are scheduled for the week of March 21, and a full Senate vote could take place in mid-April. That still would be more time than Republicans took to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the court in October 2020.

Confirmation requires a simple majority, but nothing is simple in a Senate that is split 50-50 between the parties. Jackson, a federal judge since 2013, was confirmed just last year to the appellate court 53-44, with support from three Republican senators -- Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

But Graham has indicated he now may oppose Jackson as the choice of the “radical Left.” Republicans are expected to concentrate their questioning on her judicial philosophy.  

If all Democrats and independents are present and vote in favor of Jackson, Harris could cast the tie-breaking vote, although Democrats hope a few Republicans will back Jackson. 

Confirmation would be a historic first for Biden, too. In his official proclamation of Women’s History Month, the president touted his Cabinet as “the most diverse and gender-balanced” in history, including the first women to serve as Treasury Secretary and Director of National Intelligence, the first Native American woman as Cabinet secretary, and women leading the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development.

Women have also made gains in state government. The most women ever serve in state legislatures, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

In Virginia, the 2021 election brought a record number of women – 35 – to the House of Delegates and elected the first woman of color statewide, Republican Winsome Sears, as lieutenant governor.

Women’s History Month gives us the opportunity to reflect and celebrate the contributions of women in American history and to inspire – much as a young Black girl was inspired years ago by Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman federal court judge.

“We were born exactly 49 years to the day apart,” Jackson said at the White House. “If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed . . . I can only hope that my life and career, my love of this country and the Constitution, and my commitment to upholding the rule of law and the sacred principles upon which this great nation was founded will inspire future generations.”

Let’s hope the Senate gives her that chance.

 ©2022 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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