Michigan Democrats, attorneys hail Jackson nomination as historic

Washington — Michigan attorneys, elected officials and other residents warmly welcomed President Joe Biden's selection of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the U.S. Supreme Court, calling her pick as the first Black woman nominee historic and long overdue.

On Friday Biden revealed Jackson, who grew up in Miami, as his choice to succeed retiring Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, calling her “one of our nation’s brightest legal minds.”

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks after President Joe Biden announced Jackson as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Cross Hall of the White House, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in Washington.

"As the little Black girl who grew up on the east side of Detroit, it’s hard to describe what this moment means for me," said U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield. 

"Black women have been overlooked for centuries — in employment, education, politics, C-suites, and all aspects of society," she added.

"The impact Judge Jackson will have on the Supreme Court cannot be understated. She brings with her a set of values, perspective and lived experiences that will make the Supreme Court more fair and just."

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the announcement gave her goosebumps.

"As a mother of three Black daughters, I can point to this and truly say that you can go into the highest court in the land and see someone that looks like you," Worthy said. "And this is happening in Black History Month and on the precipice of Women's History Month. Perfect!”

Other Detroiters were equally enthused about Jackson's nomination.

"Now more than ever, it is important for the highest court in the land to represent all of America," said Jean Alicia Elster, a Detroit-based author. "The president's nomination of Judge Jackson takes the country that much closer to embracing the core American principle that justice is, indeed, blind."

"Advancements in women leadership are cause for celebration," said Yavonkia Jenkins,  chief marketing officer for the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan. "Girl Scouts has always been an inclusive, safe space for girls and young women to be leaders in their communities and the world.

"The first Black woman nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court is an example of the great value of diversity and inclusion, and a testament to the importance of women’s voices and leadership in helping move our nation forward."

The news sparked buzz in Metro Detroit legal circles, with 36th District Judge Shannon Holmes saying it signals the ultimate lifting of limitations for African American women who seek to aspire to the nation’s highest court.

“I got truly emotional thinking about how my granddaughter and my great-niece will be able to serve this country without limitations,” Holmes said. “The glass ceiling has now been removed. Now the court (will) truly represent the country.”

Holmes said Brown Jackson will “adequately and accurately” represent the country and hopefully “disarm” the sting and harm of racism.

“It represents what this country is made of. We are a part of this country and (the nomination) truly does represent what this country is made of,” she said. It "could begin a healing process (of racial healing and reconciliation), and we will begin to walk in harmony.”

Jackson's nomination was also praised by Michigan's U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township — Democrats who both voted for Jackson's confirmation last year to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. 

Stabenow called Jackson an "extraordinary" nominee and "the right choice for this historic moment in our country." 

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks after President Joe Biden announced Jackson as his nominee to the Supreme Court in the Cross Hall of the White House, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022, in Washington.

But a Michigan Republican Party spokesman said Jackson's nomination is problematic.

"We have reasons to be concerned with the selection of Ketanji Brown Jackson,” said Gustavo Portela, the party's communications director. “Joe Biden has nominated an activist judge who will work to be a rubber stamp to his far-left agenda instead of protecting the Constitution and American liberties.

"We know this will be a fight and Democrats have little room for error. One thing is clear, Joe Biden had the opportunity to go with a mainstream judge and chose to please the extremes of his party.”

But Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott called Jackson “one of America’s brightest legal minds, and she is supremely qualified to serve on our nation’s highest court." 

Jackson was confirmed to her current post last June after eight years as a federal trial judge in Washington, D.C. with the vote of 53 senators — all 50 Democrats and three Republicans.. 

Jackson, 51, was a favorite choice among progressives and civil rights advocacy groups, in part because of her time as an assistant federal public defender from 2005 until 2007 and her service on the U.S. Sentencing Commission when it softened federal sentencing guidelines for many drug offenses.

She clerked for Breyer and graduated from Harvard University and Law School. 

Jackson is the daughter of two high school teachers, though she said Friday her interest in the law goes back to days when her father had enrolled in law school and they sat together at the dining room table — she with her coloring books and he with his law books open. 

United Autoworkers President Ray Curry said Jackson has a "strong understanding of the everyday lives of working families." 

"It matters a great deal who serves on the most powerful court in the land," Curry said. "In recent years, the Supreme Court allowed employers to terminate retiree health benefits at the expiration of the collective bargaining agreements and prevented public-sector unions from collecting fees from nonunion members they represent."

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said he clerked with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson from 1997-98.

Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said he clerked for 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Bruce Selya with Jackson in the late 1990s, and that she will be an excellent addition to the High Court.

“She’ll be an outstanding justice," Taylor told The Detroit News. “She’s brilliant, thoughtful and fair.”

Taylor, who has been mayor since 2014, said Jackson is the type of jurist who understands how the law has “real effects on real people" and that she's kind.

“She reveres the law and treats the law with respect,” said Taylor. “A Supreme Court justice needs to be incredibly smart, and she is.”

Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield, daughter of civil rights activist Rev. Horace Sheffield III, said it is always wonderful to witness another Black woman making history.

“Representation in this realm of legislation is crucial, and having someone as qualified, educated, and respected as Ketanji in the role will undoubtedly shed light on countless under addressed issues,” Sheffield said. “As the first Black SCOTUS nominee, I am excited to see what Ketanji Brown does with this honor, I know it will be excellent.”

Former Detroit U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade, now a University of Michigan law professor, noted that Jackson pursued her legal career with the optimism that the country's principles would be upheld. 

"Is there anything that shows more faith in the promise of America than a young person who prepares themself for a job that has never been held by someone who looks like them, believing that one day it will be possible?" McQuade tweeted. 

Metro Detroit attorney Allison Folmar, in practice for 22 years, said she felt a sense of empowerment upon hearing that Biden had nominated a "sister in the law,” saying her nomination is a testament to the pursuit of “Equal Justice Under the Law.”

"I am overflowing with pride that in 2022, the intellect, excellence and competence of Black women as jurists have been recognized as a necessary component of legal fairness," Folmar said. 

As a preteen, Folmar said she had a poster of the U.S. Supreme Court justices on her  wall in the days before the first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor. "That little girl would be elated to put up a poster of our future Supreme Court," Folmar said.

The weight of the moment was not lost on Chandra Lewis, co-founder and COO of the Allen Lewis Agency, a public relations marketing firm based in Farmington Hills.

The announcement coming during Black History Month was fitting and also inspirational for other African Americans such as her teen daughter, she said.

“To be able to look and say ‘Yes this could be me.’ It’s amazing,” Lewis said, adding Jackson’s appointment could be pivotal. “…Being able to have someone who can represent our voice within very important decisions that impact all of our lives for decades to come is critical.”

mburke@detroitnews.com

Staff Writers Mark Hicks and Sarah Rahal contributed.