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Saturday, April 1, 2023

Questioning a Black woman’s credentials is par for the course in this country

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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 2, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

In Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, President Joe Biden took a moment to acknowledge the recent nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the Supreme Court, describing her as one of the nation’s top legal minds. Brown Jackson’s nomination holds extra significance as she is the first Black woman nominated to be a Supreme Court Justice. 

Fox News talk show host Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson, already known for race-baiting,  questioned Biden’s choice of words, suggesting that Americans need to see Judge Brown Jackson’s LSAT scores. The social media backlash to Carlson’s inane and racist suggestion was swift, with many pointing out that he never asked for the scores of Justice Brett Kavanagh or Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Carlson’s commentary once again showcased the true colors of his character and pointed to the hoops that Black people—particularly Black women—have to regularly jump through in the workforce. 

Just to get this out of the way, the LSAT scores don’t matter much now. The scores mattered during Judge Brown Jackson’s law school application process when Harvard Law School decided to grant her admission in addition to other factors like graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University. LSAT scores don’t reveal any actual knowledge of the law, like passing a state’s bar exam does. Carlson’s decision to mention these scores served as a backhanded way to bring up conversations about affirmative action and stoke the idea that Judge Brown Jackson is somehow less qualified than previous nominees, whose scores he likely does not know.

What does matter in proving her legal prowess is everything that happened following her submission of those LSAT scores to Harvard Law. While at one of the nation’s top law schools, she repeatedly showcased her skills, serving as editor on the Harvard Law Review and graduating with honors. Since then, she’s held impressive roles such as earning three clerkships—including with Justice Stephen Breyer, whom she would replace—serving as a federal public defender and a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, both which require confirmation by the Senate. Carlson’s attempt to cast doubt on her legal knowledge by using LSAT scores either means that he is completely unaware of what makes a person a bright legal mind or he was intent on denigrating Judge Brown Jackson’s name. 

This kind of attack is not surprising to Black people. When Judge Brown Jackson’s nomination was first announced, a sentiment often shared by Black people on social media along with the “never in my lifetime” preface was the significance of seeing someone without a “white” name ascending to the highest court in the land. As recently as last year, a study from the University of California, Berkeley pointed to the employment discrimination that occurred when resumes featured distinctively Black names versus distinctively white names. When Carlson remarked that the president couldn’t pronounce Judge Brown Jackson’s first name, he’s once again negatively highlighting race and trying to use her Blackness to detract from her qualifications. 

Carlson’s attempt to besmirch Judge Brown Jackson’s name and cast doubt on her suitability failed because it lacked substance. Thankfully, Carlson doesn’t get to decide who has to show their receipts to prove their worth.

Kimberly Denise Williams is a Brooklyn-born writer and chatterbox who explores the intersections of history and contemporary popular culture. You can find her online @kimberlythinks where she also shares her opinions on dark chocolate and tea.


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