Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson publicly thanks God but keeps faith story private
Washington • When speaking at the first day of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing as a Supreme Court nominee, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson declared her belief in God and her gratitude for the blessings divine.
“I must also pause to reaffirm my thanks to God, for it is faith that sustains me at this time,” she said Monday. “Even before today, I can honestly say that my life has been blessed beyond measure.”
It echoed similar remarks after President Joe Biden announced his historic nomination.
“I have to start these very brief remarks by thanking God for bringing me to this point in my professional journey,” Jackson said after thanking Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris during the Feb. 25 speech. “My life has been blessed beyond measure, and I know you can only go so far by faith.”
Njeri Mathis Rutledge was not surprised that her former Harvard Law School classmate’s first impulse was to thank God.
“He’s a very sincere person, so I think it was in his heart to say that,” said Rutledge, who lived in the same dorm and took the same basic classes as Jackson, a court judge. of appeal appointed by Biden to succeed Judge Stephen Breyer.
“Being a black woman in the legal field, which can be hostile at times,” Rutledge added, “takes faith.”
Rutledge, now a law professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, like many other admirers and supporters of the 51-year-old Jackson, doesn’t know the details of her college friend’s religious practice, though she considers it as “a woman of strong faith, of strong Christian faith.
Rutledge, who is Facebook friends with Jackson, said she could not recall whether Jackson, who “spent a lot of time with his studies,” attended a black church with her and other black students during their first year of law school.
She said Jackson — who, if confirmed, would become the nation’s first black female Supreme Court justice — didn’t openly express her faith when they were in school together in the 1990s.
“The way we express our faith is not just in words but in actions,” Rutledge said, describing Jackson’s kindness and support, including making sure Rutledge had enough pencils before a school exam. Civil Procedure. “And she certainly had the heart of a Christian.”
Few details of Jackson’s past or present faith are available, most of them taken from a few speeches in a 2,086-page Senate Judiciary Committee document. Other people interviewed by Religion News Service could not describe his current religious practice, if any.
A Senate Judiciary Committee staffer could not comment further on details of Jackson’s faith.
“I have no direct knowledge of any disclosure regarding religious affiliation,” the staffer said. “All official correspondence with the committee is in her questionnaire and attachments, so if she did, they will be there.”
The Reverend Leslie Watson Wilson, national director of People for the American Way’s African-American Ministers in Action, cited Jackson’s statement of faith when announcing the nomination and said she didn’t know any better. on Jackson’s religious persuasion, adding that she suspects Jackson or others who know she may be keeping her from being “stigmatized or boxed” about her faith since critics are already calling her a liberal or radical.
“It’s one of those things,” Wilson said, “where we’re going to have to respect his privacy.”
In 2020, at an awards dinner where she was honored by the University of Chicago Black Law Students Association, Jackson said, “In my religious tradition, it is said that to whom one give a lot, expect a lot. I guess that means that we, who have benefited from it, have a responsibility to give back to our community in any way we can, and I’m very committed to that obligation.
She expressed those same sentiments — almost verbatim — the year before when she delivered a law firm retirement.
Just as she expressed her gratitude for the spirituality at her roots on the day of her Supreme Court nomination, she also mentioned that her parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents “inculcate the values of faith and family.” when she spoke at her 2013 investiture ceremony of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
In turn, she told her daughters, then “on the brink of adolescence”, that she hoped they would learn from her experience: “Work hard, be kind, have faith and remember that everything is possible.
On Monday, as Jackson’s confirmation hearings were set to begin, church leaders joined others in supporting her, focusing on her record and expertise.
“You opened doors for her,” Wilson said in a prayer of thanksgiving at the start of a rally outside the Supreme Court featuring organizations advocating for a black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She listed Jackson’s many legal roles and asked for divine help in taking Jackson “to the next level.”
Heather Taylor, social justice commissioner for the Progressive National Baptist Convention, highlighted Jackson’s perspective and credentials during a press conference held by her historically black denomination on Capitol Hill Monday.
Citing Jackson’s education, internships for federal judges and service in federal courts and as a federal public defender, Taylor said “perspective matters” when judges review voting rights legislation and cases that could have a negative effect on marginalized people.
“I’m not here today to degrade or denigrate or belittle the moral compass or white male perspective,” she said, “but rather to say that integrating the black female perspective, which has been rightly dubbed in this nation as the conscience of America, is long overdue.
The speech included in the Judiciary Committee records where Jackson exposed the most about faith was at the 2011 graduation ceremony at Montrose Christian School, a now-defunct Maryland school of which she was a member of the advisory board. inaugural before becoming a federal district judge.
“You are here in the sanctuary of Montrose Baptist Church, in the shadow of the cross, where people come to worship and give thanks,” she said. “Remember it was here in the church that your teachers, friends and loved ones prayed for you and wished you well as you entered this new phase of your life,” she said. . “When you’re out there struggling (as we all do), look back – remember you were never alone and be thankful for what God has done for you.”
She remembered her parents’ prayers and remembered how, as a sobbing freshman at Harvard, she was comforted by an answering machine message to which her mother sang for her. “His song was the encouragement I needed at that time, and even in my loneliness I thanked God for the opportunity he had given me, for the solid foundation he had provided. , and also for the path traveled.”
Some anticipate that, as happened when she was a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee for the DC Circuit, Jackson will be questioned by senators about her connection to the wording of a statement of faith on the site. Montrose Christian’s Web, which included opposition to homosexuality and encouragement to “speak on behalf of the unborn child”. In response at the time, Jackson said she was unaware of the website’s statements and added that in general, as a federal judge and pending judicial candidate, “it would be inappropriate for me to identify statements or policy positions of these councils and to indicate my personal agreement or disagreement with these statements.
March for Life, an anti-abortion group, was one of the first groups to declare its opposition to Jackson’s nomination to the high court.
“We expect her to be a reliable vote for the far left and the Biden administration’s radical abortion agenda,” said its president, Jeanne Mancini. “We urge members of the Senate to stand up for our country’s most vulnerable mothers and unborn children by rejecting this extreme candidate, and we encourage the appointment of a judge who will honor our Constitution and the right to life.”
Rutledge said such a stance was unfair to Jackson.
“I know, without a doubt, that Ketanji Brown Jackson is dedicated to the Constitution, to the rule of law,” Rutledge said. “She will decide cases based on the facts and the law, not an agenda. Now, is she going to be more progressive than the very conservative wing of the court? Probably, but she’s also just and dedicated to the law. So I think it’s unfair to say that she has already made up her mind on any issue.
During a White House “call for faith and community engagement” in early March, administration officials thanked religious and nonprofit leaders for their actions on Jackson’s behalf.
“We are continually grateful for the support she has received from this community. Please continue to do so as much as possible,” urged Josh Dickson, deputy director of the White House Office of Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships. “We know it meant a lot, especially in the face of some baseless attacks on her. She is an eminently qualified lawyer, and we look forward to her confirmation on the bench.
National reporter Jack Jenkins contributed to this report.