FLASHBACK: Celebrating Liberal Justice Jackson, the ‘American Dream’

April 7th, 2024 10:15 AM

Exactly two years ago today (April 7, 2022), the U.S. Senate voted 53-47 to confirm federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the newest Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, replacing retiring Justice Stephen Breyer.

Eighteen months earlier, liberal journalists fumed when a nearly mirror-image Senate vote (52-48) elevated federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Court, rebuking it as a “power play” and “the most partisan confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice in American history.” But Jackson’s confirmation was a time for “celebration,” as reporters applauded a new Justice who “represents excellence” and the “American Dream.”

The media’s effusive praise of Jackson began as soon as President Biden announced her selection on February 25, 2022. “From the beginning, the federal appeals court judge was the frontrunner, with stellar academic and legal credentials and a compelling life story,” CBS’s Jan Crawford touted on the CBS Evening News.

Over on CNN, legal analyst Laura Coates pronounced Jackson “almost a legal deity.” Two days later on Meet the Press, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell proclaimed: “She has extraordinary credentials.”

In March, as the Senate Judiciary Committee began its hearings, NBC’s Yamiche Alcindor assured viewers Jackson was ready: “I was texting with one of her closest friends today and they told me yesterday was very, very emotional, but that they believe that their friend is like an Olympic athlete who has been training for this her whole life.”

If the media presented Jackson as the hero of the hearings, they left no doubt the Republican Senators were to be seen as the villains. “Tom Cotton was thuggish....Lindsey Graham was screamy and weird,” MSNBC’s Joy Reid erupted on the March 22 The ReidOut. During a CNN panel discussion, the Grio’s Natasha Alford blasted Ted Cruz as a “clown” while legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin derided Cruz’s line of questioning — on Critical Race Theory — as “a trip to the surreal.”

Referring to the Republican Supreme Court nominee who in 2018 was smeared by Democrats as a rapist, the Washington Post’s lead editorial on March 23 exclaimed: “Republicans boast they have not pulled a Kavanaugh. In fact, they’ve treated Jackson worse.”

Jackson’s biggest flub of the hearings came on March 23, when Senator Marsha Blackburn asked if she could “provide a definition for the word woman?” A four-year old could have answered such a simple question, but Jackson preferred to evade: “I am not a biologist.” That night, ABC and CBS aided the nominee by refusing to even show the exchange during their evening news recap of the hearings.

The headline in the next day’s USA Today exemplified the media’s attempt at damage control: “Marsha Blackburn asked Ketanji Brown Jackson to define ‘woman.’ Science says there’s no simple answer.”

“The Republican manhandling of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson this week was convincing evidence that the Senate’s Supreme Court confirmation process is irredeemably broken,” the New York Times’s Carl Husle scolded in a front-page new story on March 24.

On CBS Mornings, correspondent Nikole Killion said the hearing consisted of “searing attacks on the first black woman who is likely to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.” Co-host Gayle King fretted: “It was very painful to watch.”

“Watching her sit there, as we’re looking at that picture right now, I felt as if I was watching a relative go through hell,” the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart rued on PBS’s NewsHour that Friday (March 25). “We work so hard as African Americans to get to these spots and to stay in these spots... to have to jump through these hoops and be questioned by people who aren’t even at our level.”

The hearings changed no votes (do they ever?), with all Senate Democrats (plus three Republicans) voting to officially confirm Jackson roughly two weeks later (April 7).

Glass ceiling metaphors abounded. “The star debater from Miami Palmetto Senior High School responsible for lots of shards of glass today, as she smashes through now, this ultimate ceiling in the legal world,” anchor Linsey Davis exulted during ABC’s live coverage.

“This moment, of course, is 233 years in the making and she is shattering a double-paned glass ceiling as a black woman,” correspondent Yamiche Alcindor echoed during NBC’s special report.

“For the first time in history, four of the nine justices will be women, and white men will be in the minority,” ABC congressional correspondent Rachel Scott announced on World News Tonight.

“It was a moment of historic celebration,” CBS’s Nikole Killion enthused the next day (April 8) on CBS Mornings. “Cheers erupted from the Senate floor, to watch parties across the country.”

“It’s a very proud moment for a lot of people today,” beamed co-host Gayle King.

That afternoon, President Biden held a political event at the White House to further advertise Jackson’s confirmation. Gone was the bitterness with which the media approached the confirmation of Justice Barrett a year-and-a-half earlier. “It feels a little bit like a party here at the White House,” a smiling Mary Bruce recounted during ABC’s live coverage. “This is actually the biggest celebration I’ve seen so far during the Biden administration, and this is a very happy, excited crowd.”

“She has achieved so much. She represents excellence to so many people,” ABC’s Deborah Roberts enthused a few minutes later. “Yes, she’s the first black woman, but I don’t think for a lot of people that is really what this is about. This is a woman who just represents excellence....She’s the American Dream.”

Certainly, any judge who makes it to the Supreme Court should be celebrated for having reached the pinnacle of their profession. It’s too bad that the media can’t be equally effusive when the high-achieving judge who reaches the Court has been appointed by a Republican president.

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.