The Lady Justice statue, which is seen often in many courthouses, has become the most recognized symbol of American justice. It is portrayed as a blindfolded woman carrying a sword and a set of scales as she represents the ethics and fairness of how the legal system is supposed to work. The blindfold tells us that justice is blind in its impartiality and objectivity of the law. Therefore, external factors such as partisan politics, wealth, status, race or fame should be removed so they do not prevent the execution of an honest and objective process and decision by the courts.
Justice does not see who is before her regardless if they are rich or poor, Black or white, friend or foe — everyone is to have equal treatment. Balance is key, and the scales represent the balance of justice. The scales imply a rational process of fairness where both sides of the case will be considered even-handedly. It counters the reality of a shameless segment of society with its “thumb on the scale” approach to justice. An approach where too much weight (or biased influence) on one side will cause the scales to tilt unfairly in one direction. It takes men and women of character and integrity to serve as court judges on all levels in order to have this type of justice executed. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with those who were given the past honor of being nominated and appointed as a court judge.
Years ago, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson served as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Ironically, the current United States Circuit Court judge has been nominated to replace the retiring Justice Breyer making her the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.
“Justice Breyer not only gave me the greatest job that any young lawyer could ever hope to have, but he also exemplifies what it means to be a Supreme Court justice of the highest level of skill and integrity, civility, and grace,” Jackson said. “It is extremely humbling to be considered for Justice Breyer’s seat, and I know that I could never fill his shoes. But if confirmed, I would hope to carry on his spirit.” Given the current political climate, it was not surprising that the four-day Supreme Court confirmation hearings had its moments of partisan grandstanding. Regardless, the hearing process overall was a proud and historic moment. During the hearings, the nation had the opportunity to see how much Ketanji Brown Jackson either as a daughter, sister, wife, friend, student, public servant and most of all a working mother reminds us of ourselves.
During the hearings, we learned that her parents, Johnny and Ellery Brown, left their hometown of Miami and moved to Washington, D.C., where they both would become public schoolteachers. Like so many parents from all walks of life, they sacrificed in providing their children every opportunity to reach their God-given potential. They instilled in their daughter and future judge the importance of public service and that through hard work, she can become anything she wanted to be. As an expression of her parent’s pride in their heritage and hope for the future, they gave their daughter the African name meaning “lovely one.”
As a woman of deep faith in God and unyielding love for family, Judge Jackson epitomizes the challenges of a working woman in juggling a career with the demands of motherhood. We also saw during the hearings how Jackson epitomizes a true court judge when constantly pressed on the topic of judicial philosophy. As a judge, she refuses to be labeled by remaining committed to following an honest and objective judicial process.
When questioned by Sen. Ben Sasse, Jackson stated, “As a result, because my methodology involves these various pieces and because of the way in which I do things, I’m reluctant to establish or adopt a particular label because the idea of how you interpret is just one part of the entirety of a judge’s responsibility.” She was a judge explaining to senators, who were not judges, how to be a judge. She would later explain how her methodology has steps that include proceeding from a position of neutrality, evaluating all of the facts from various perspectives and, finally, interpretation and application of the law to the specific facts in the case. When she made it known to the senators, “I’m not importing my personal view or policy preferences,” isn’t this how every judge should apply blind justice?
While Sen. Sasse will not support Judge Jackson’s confirmation, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said that he intends to vote yes effectively guaranteeing she will be confirmed. Judge Jackson will make history with her confirmation, but she has already taught us a valuable lesson: Stay composed and don’t allow people to place labels on you. Just be yourself — independent and fair.
Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization TRB: The Reconciled Body and author of the book “God Bless Our Divided America.”