Rutgers Law-Camden Vice Dean Reacts to First Black Female Supreme Court Nominee

Stacy Hawkins, a constitutional law expert, noted the symbolic and practical implications of increased representation on the bench

Ida B. Wells Barbie from Mattel

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court marks a historic moment in the Court’s 233-year history, as she is the first Black woman to receive a nomination for the position. Coming at the close of Black History Month, the announcement served as a reminder of the need for representation in the United States government’s most powerful institutions.

If confirmed, Brown Jackson, who currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals’ District of Columbia Circuit, would be the eighth justice in the history of the Supreme Court who was not a white male. Stacy Hawkins, constitutional law expert at Rutgers Law School in Camden, said Brown Jackson would provide a valuable, necessary perspective to the federal judiciary.

Interior of the Supreme Court

“Representation on the bench is important. Diverse judges offer those who participate in our justice system as litigants, defendants and jurors, and even public observers, confidence that our rule of law serves the interests of all of people, not just some people.”

–Stacy Hawkins, Esq.

“Representation on the bench is important,” said Hawkins, whose areas of expertise also include civil rights and employment law. “Diverse judges offer those who participate in our justice system as litigants, defendants, jurors, and even public observers, confidence that our rule of law serves the interests of all of people.”

Hawkins believes the presence of a Black woman on the Supreme Court will serve as an inspiration for young women to pursue a career in law.

“Judges serve as highly visible and esteemed examples within the profession for young lawyers to emulate,” Hawkins said. She noted that Constance Baker Motley, who in 1966 became the first Black woman appointed as a federal judge, inspired her own desire to become a lawyer.

Stacy Hawkins, Vice Dean and Professor of Law

Stacy Hawkins, Vice Dean and Professor of Law

Stacy Hawkins, Vice Dean and Professor of Law

President Biden’s nomination of Brown Jackson comes at a time of national reckoning over racial and gender equality. Hawkins says Judge Brown Jackson’s experience as a public defender would offer a unique perspective that could affect law enforcement.

“One issue that may have the potential to return to the Supreme Court is qualified immunity for police officers who engage in misconduct, especially when that misconduct leads to the death of persons in police custody,” Hawkins said. “The Supreme Court has long taken a deferential view to police in these cases, but someone like a future Justice Brown Jackson might offer a unique perspective on that issue.”

Hawkins said the motion would help build a bench that is more representative of the United States’ racial and ethnic composition.

“According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the national population is approximately 60 percent white,” Hawkins said. “The Supreme Court’s racial makeup is 77 percent white. By adding another justice of color, that composition becomes more representative of the nation,” said Hawkins.The Senate will now schedule hearings, followed by a vote. Hawkins said it is likely that Brown Jackson’s confirmation will proceed smoothly.

“Neither Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, nor Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have been key holdouts on some of the Democrats’ more aggressive policy proposals, have voiced any opposition to Biden’s nomination of Brown Jackson,” Hawkins said. “Both have also voted for all of Biden’s judicial nominees to date, so there is currently no reason to believe any Democrat would thwart the process of an efficient confirmation.”

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Photo by Ian Hutchinson on Unsplash

Throughout Black History Month, Rutgers University–Camden RePRESENTation Matters project is highlighting faculty experts and stories that spark conversation about why representation matters in the effort to overcome systemic racism.

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