LOCALIZE IT: Story ideas around the Jackson confirmation

Via AP news wire
Thursday 07 April 2022 21:29 BST
Biden (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

After 232 years and 115 other justices, the Supreme Court will have its first Black woman justice. The senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson on Thursday by a vote of 53-47. Three Republicans — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah — voted with Democrats to confirm her.

Jackson’s confirmation is an opportunity for newsrooms nationwide to take a look at the diversity at their own local and federal courts. It’s a time to assess not only whether the bench looks like the community it serves but also to profile some jurists who, while not in the spotlight like Jackson, are no less notable.

Here are some ideas for local stories in the wake of the confirmation.


Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is the Supreme Court’s first Black female justice and its third Black justice overall. She follows Justice Thurgood Marshall, who joined the court in 1967, and Justice Clarence Thomas, who replaced Marshall in 1991.

President Joe Biden first discussed naming a Black woman to the court while he was a candidate for president. Biden said if a seat opened and he were president he’d make the historic appointment because the court “should look like the country.” Biden made that statement before South Carolina’s presidential primary, the first 2020 contest where a majority of the electorate was Black. His victory there helped propel him to become the Democratic nominee.

Jackson is the sixth woman to ever serve on the court, and when she joins the bench following the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer this summer there will for the first time be four female justices sitting together on the court.

The first female member of the court was Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981, followed by Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1993. President Barack Obama nominated two women to the court. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina justice, joined the court in 2009. Justice Elena Kagan joined in 2010. President Donald Trump nominated Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the court to replace Ginsburg following her death in 2020.

Ginsburg, a women’s rights icon, was sometimes asked when there would be enough women on the Supreme Court. Her response: “When there are nine.”


Before her nomination to the Supreme Court, Jackson served as both a federal trial-level judge and a federal appeals court judge. The Biden administration has made a concerted effort to put more Black women on the federal bench, and there are currently several dozen Black women serving on federal courts nationwide.

Readers may be interested in learning about the makeup of the federal judiciary in your area and the representation of other minority groups locally or nationally.

The government has an excellent online database of current and historic judges that can be sorted by 17 different race or ethnicity categories as well as gender and appointing president, among other categories. It can be accessed here:


The data can also be narrowed to your area by selecting the District and Circuit courts that oversee the area you’re interested in.


Jackson’s confirmation is also a good time to examine, or re-examine, diversity on state courts, which handle the vast majority of cases nationwide.

States generally have an administrative office for their courts. Those offices may be able to provide race and gender statistics across state judges generally, either quickly or via a freedom of information request.

The highest court of a state, of course, has only a handful of members. That makes it easy enough to quickly find information about the makeup of the court. States also often have Supreme Court or other historical societies dedicated to their highest court that may be able to provide details of judicial firsts or the racial and gender composition of the court over time.

The Brennan Center for Justice released a report on state Supreme Court diversity in 2019. It noted that the highest courts of about half of states had all-white members, and more than a dozen states have never had a Black state high court justice. That report, which contains various state-level observations, is here: https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/state-supreme-court-diversity

The U.S. Census can be a good tool to use to compare the diversity of the judiciary or the Supreme Court to the state population as a whole. State-level data for the 2020 census can be accessed here: https://www.census.gov/library/stories/state-by-state.html


— Does the state have a large population of some kind that has never been represented on its highest court or is underrepresented in the judiciary generally?

— What percentage of state court or state Supreme Court judges are members of minority groups? How does this compare to the state population overall?

— What, if anything, would need to change for the composition of the judiciary or state Supreme Court to make it look more like the population it serves? Is anyone working for that change?


Jackson may be the Supreme Court’s first Black female justice, but both state and federal courts have other Black women serving in positions of prominence as well as other judges who are historic firsts.

Even if your state doesn’t currently have a particularly diverse judiciary or high court, there may one or more historical firsts worth spotlighting including the first Black female judge or justice. For example, Pennsylvania’s seven-member Supreme Court is currently all white. But it was also the first state to have a Black female state Supreme Court justice. Juanita Kidd Stout joined Pennsylvania’s highest court in 1988. She died in 1998. Again, state court historical societies are a good place for guidance.


Jackson’s confirmation may also generate conversations about other yet-to-be-achieved firsts on the Supreme Court. The court has yet to have, for example, an openly gay justice, a Muslim justice or an Asian or Native American justice. The men and women who could be those firsts could be living in your community right now. Good luck.


Jessica Gresko covers the U.S. Supreme Court for The Associated Press. Localize It is an occasional feature produced by The Associated Press for its customers’ use. Questions can be directed to Ted Anthony at tanthony@ap.org

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