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Confirmation of Jackson to the Supreme Court: ‘A watershed moment’

Northwestern Pritzker School of Law professor Tonja Jacobi says that Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first African American woman to serve on the Supreme Court — and the first former federal public defender — will bring a novel perspective to the most pressing issues that the United States judiciary must address, issues that often divide the nation.

Robin Walker Sterling, also a professor at the Pritzker School of Law, added that Jackson can still have a significant impact even by writing dissents, which can articulate for Congress, litigants or activists some of the work that remains to be done on important legal questions. 

Jacobi, the co-founder of ScotusOA, a website dedicated to empirical analysis of Supreme Court oral arguments, Sterling, director of Northwestern Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic, and Northwestern political scientist Alvin Tillery, director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy, are available to discuss the implications of Jackson’s historic confirmation at a moment of increasing political polarization in the U.S.

Tonja Jacobi is professor of law at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. She specializes in judicial behavior and strategy in public law. Her areas of interest include judicial politics, Supreme Court oral arguments, criminal procedure and constitutional law. She can be reached at

Quote from Professor Jacobi
“In many ways, Jackson is a very standard judicial appointment: a Harvard-educated lawyer-turned-judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, she has the impeccable credentials common to those elevated to the nation’s highest court. But Jackson also offers something more. As the first African-American woman to serve on the Court, and the first former federal public defender, she will bring a novel perspective to the most pressing issues that the United States judiciary must address, issues that often divide the nation. 

“Her confirmation shows that people of all backgrounds can be represented in every branch of government. And while as a Democrat-nominated justice replacing another, she may not change the balance of power on the Court, her background also matters in terms of the Court’s decision making, as studies have shown that input from a variety of perspectives helps make better decisions, avoiding groupthink. Her confirmation marks a great step forward in an institution entirely dominated by white men only 40 years ago.”

Robin Walker Sterling is the associate dean for clinical education, the director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic, and the Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman Professor of Law at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. She can be reached at

 Quote from Professor Sterling
“I’m feeling pride, joy and hope after Jackson’s confirmation, because it means that populations whose voices are often marginalized in cases that reach the Supreme Court might not remain so marginalized. Her experience as a district court judge; as a Federal Public Defender; and on the Sentencing Commission have given her a chance to observe up close how the law affects people, both for good and ill. I hope that she will continue to carry that experience with her as she considers cases, and that her colleagues will be open to hearing that perspective as they deliberate. 

"Jackson’s extraordinary achievement is also important symbolically at a time when the court is facing a test of legitimacy. In the past, when the court was more closely divided, leading to 5-4 decisions, there was sometimes a sense that the justices had to find common ground. Now, with a 6-3 conservative tilt, there’s less incentive to compromise. 

"But I believe she can still have an impact, even if she ends up writing minority dissents in many cases. There is a saying that “today’s dissents are tomorrow’s majority opinions.” So, we need to consider the audiences for those dissents, which can signal to Congress, litigants or activists that some work remains to be done. Given Jackson’s breadth of experience, I believe she will be well aware of all the levers that she can push.”

Alvin B. Tillery Jr. is an associate professor of political science and director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy. His research and teaching interests are in the fields of American politics and political theory. His research focuses on American political development, racial and ethnic politics and media and politics. He can be reached at

 Quote from Professor Tillery
“The confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court is a watershed moment in our nation’s history. It is also a major win for President Biden, who has now kept a campaign promise to a crucial Democratic constituency and expanded the diversity of the Supreme Court. While it is understandable why the majority of Americans who wanted Judge Jackson confirmed to the Supreme Court might see her elevation as a sign that the country is finally moving past the polarization that characterized the Trump years, this would be a mistake. 

“The fact that not one Republican on the Senate Judiciary committee voted to confirm Judge Jackson, who is by far the most qualified nominee in the modern era, and despite the fact that many had previously voted to confirm her to the D.C. Court of Appeals, is a sign that they remain committed to sowing discord as a political strategy.”