Remarks on Senate Confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson as a Supreme Court Associate Justice
Vice President Kamala D. Harris. Good morning. Good morning. Good morning, America. [Laughter] Have a seat, please.
President Joe Biden, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, Members of Congress, members of the Cabinet, members of our administration, and friends and fellow Americans: Today is, indeed, a wonderful day, as we gather to celebrate the confirmation of the next Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
President George Washington once referred to America as a "great experiment," a nation founded on the previously untested belief that the people—we, the people—could form a more perfect Union. And that belief has pushed our Nation forward for generations. And it is that belief that we reaffirmed yesterday, through the confirmation of the first Black woman to the United States Supreme Court.
The President. Whoa! It's about time!
Vice President Harris. And, Judge Jackson, you will inspire generations of leaders. They will watch your confirmation hearings and read your decisions.
In the years to come, the Court will answer fundamental questions about who we are and what kind of country we live in: Will we expand opportunity or restrict it? Will we strengthen the foundations of our great democracy or let them crumble? Will we move forward or backward?
The young leaders of our Nation will learn from the experience, the judgment, the wisdom that you, Judge Jackson, will apply in every case that comes before you. And they will see, for the first time, four women sitting on that Court at one time.
So, as a point of personal privilege, I will share with you, Judge Jackson, that when I presided over the Senate confirmation vote yesterday, while I was sitting there, I drafted a note to my goddaughter. And I told her that I felt such a deep sense of pride and joy and about what this moment means for our Nation and for her future. And I will tell you, her braids are just a little longer than yours. [Laughter] But as I wrote to her, I told her what I knew this would mean for her life and all that she has in terms of potential.
So, indeed, the road toward our more perfect Union is not always straight, and it is not always smooth. But sometimes, it leads to a day like today, a day that reminds us what is possible, what is possible when progress is made, and that the journey, well, it will always be worth it.
So let us not forget that, as we celebrate this day, we are also here in great part because of one President, Joe Biden, and—[laughter]—and because of Joe Biden's vision and leadership and commitment—a lifelong commitment—to building a better America.
And of course, we are also here because of the voices and the support of so many others, many of whom are in this audience today.
And with that, it is now my extreme and great honor to introduce our President, Joe Biden.
The President. Thank you, Kamala. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The first really smart decision I made in this administration. [Laughter]
My name's Joe Biden. Please, sit down. I'm Jill's husband—[laughter]—and Naomi Biden's grandfather.
And, folks, you know, yesterday—this is not only a sunny day. I mean this from the bottom of my heart: This is going to let so much shine—sun shine on so many young women, so many young Black women, so many minorities, that it's real. It's real. We're going to look back—nothing to do with me—we're going to look back and see this as a moment of real change in American history.
I was on the phone this morning, Jesse, with President Ramaphosa of South Africa. And he was talking about how—the time that I was so outspoken about what was going on and my meeting with Nelson Mandela here. And I said, "You know"—I said, "I'm shortly going to go out," look—I'm looking out the window—"I'm going to go out in this—what they call the South Lawn of the White House, and I'm going to introduce to the world—to the world—the first African American woman out of over 200 judges on the Supreme Court." And he said to me—he said, "Keep it up." [Laughter] "Keep it up." We're going to keep it up.
And, folks, yesterday we all witnessed a truly historic moment presided over by the Vice President. There are moments, if people go back in history, and they're literally historic, consequential, fundamental shifts in American policy.
Today we're joined by the First Lady, the Second Gentleman, and members of the Cabinet, the Senate Majority Leader. Where—there you are, Chuck. The Senate Majority leader. And so many who made this possible.
But—and today is a good day, a day that history is going to remember. And in the years to come, they're going to be proud of what we did, and which I would—Dick Durbin did as the chairman of the committee. I'm serious, Dick. I'm deadly earnest when I say that. To turn—our children and grandchildren and say, "I was there." "I was there." That—this is one of those moments, in my view.
My fellow Americans, today I'm honored to officially introduce to you the next Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ketanji Brown Jackson.
After more than 20 hours of questioning at her hearing and nearly 100 meetings—she made herself available to every single Senator who wanted to speak to her and spoke for more than just a few minutes, answered their questions, in private as well as before the committee—we all saw the kind of Justice she'll be: fair and impartial, thoughtful, careful, precise, brilliant. A brilliant legal mind with deep knowledge of the law. And a judicial temperament—which was equally important, in my view—that's calm and in command. And a humility that allows so many Americans to see themselves in Ketanji Brown Jackson.
That brings a rare combination of expertise and qualifications to the Court. A Federal judge who has served on the second most powerful court in America behind the Supreme Court. A former Federal public defender with the ability to explain complicated issues in the law in ways everybody—all people—can understand. A new perspective.
When I made the commitment to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, I could see this day. I literally could see this day, because I thought about it for a long, long time. As Jill and Naomi would tell you, I wasn't going to run again. But when I decided to run, this was one of the first decisions I made. I could see it. I could see it as a day of hope, a day of promise, a day of progress; a day when, once again, the moral arc of the universe, as Barack used to quote all the time, bends a little more toward justice.
I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I knew the person I nominated would be put through a painful and difficult confirmation process. But I have to tell you, what Judge Jackson was put through was well beyond that. There was verbal abuse: the anger, the constant interruptions, the most vile, baseless assertions and accusations.
In the face of it all, Judge Jackson showed the incredible character and integrity she possesses: poise, poise and composure, patience and restraint. And yes, perseverance and even joy. Even joy.
Ketanji—or I can't—I'm not going to be calling you that in public anymore. [Laughter] Judge, you are the very definition of what we Irish refer to as dignity. You have enormous dignity. And it's—communicates to people. It's contagious. And it matters. It matters a lot.
Maybe that's not surprising if you looked who sat behind her during those hearings: her husband Dr. Patrick Jackson and his family. Patrick, stand up, man. Stand up. Talia and Leila, stand up. I know it's embarrassing the girls. I'm going to tell you what Talia said. I said to Talia, "It's hard being the daughter or the son of a famous person." I said, "Imagine what it's like being President." And he said—she said, "She may be." [Laughter] I couldn't agree more. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And Ketajh, her brother, a former police officer and a veteran. Ketajh, stand up, man. This a man who looks like he can still play, buddy. He's got biceps about as big as my calves. [Laughter] Thank you, bud. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And of course, her parents: Johnny and Ellery Brown. Johnny and Ellery, stand up. I tell you what, as I told Mom: Moms rule in my house. [Laughter] No, you're not—think I'm kidding. I'm not. My mom and my wife as well.
Look, people of deep faith, with a deep love of family and country, that's what you represent; who know firsthand, Mom and Dad, the indignity of Jim Crow, the inhumanity of legal segregation, and you had to overcome so much in your own lives.
You saw the strength of parents and the strength of a daughter that is just worth celebrating. I can't get over, Mom and Dad—you know, I mean, what you did and your faith and never giving up any hope. And both that wonderful son you have and your daughter.
You know, and that strength lifted up millions of Americans who watched you, Judge Jackson, especially women and women of color who have had to run the gauntlet in their own lives. So many of my Cabinet members are women: women of color, women that represent every sector of the community. And it matters. And you stood up for them as well. They know it—everybody out there, every woman out there, everyone—am I correct? Just like they have. Just like they have. And same with the women Members of Congress, as well, across the board.
Look, it's a powerful thing when people can see themselves in others. Think about that. What's the most powerful thing—I'll bet every one of you can go back and think of a time in your life where there was a teacher, a family member, a neighbor—somebody—somebody who made you believe that you could be whatever you wanted to be. It's a powerful, powerful, powerful notion.
And that's one of the reasons I believed so strongly that we needed a Court that looks like America. Not just the Supreme Court. That's why I'm proud to say, with the great help of Dick Durbin, I've nominated more Black women judges to the Federal appeal courts than all previous Presidents combined. Combined.
That's why I'm proud that Kamala Harris is our Vice President of the United States. A brilliant lawyer, the attorney general of the State of California, former member of the Senate Judiciary Committee: Kamala was invaluable during this entire process.
And, Chuck, our Majority leader, I want to thank you, pal. You did a masterful job in keeping the caucus together, getting this vote across the finish line in a timely and historic manner. Just watching it on television yesterday, watching when the vote was taken—and the Democratic side, they're brave people—there was such enthusiasm, genuine. You can tell when it's real. You can tell when it's real. You did an incredible job, Chuck. Thank you so much.
Folks, because you're all able to sit down and don't have to stand, I'm going to go on a little longer here and tell you—[laughter]—I want to say something about Dick Durbin again. Dick, I'm telling you, overseeing the hearing, how you executed the strategy by the hour, every day, to keep the committee together. And you have a very divided committee with some of the most conservative Members of the Senate on that committee. It was especially difficult with an evenly divided Senate.
Dick, I served as chairman of that committee for a number of years before I had this job and the job of Vice President. As did all the Democrats, and you did an outstanding—I think all the Democrats in the committee did and every Democrat in the Senate, all of whom voted for Judge Jackson.
And notwithstanding the harassment and attacks in the hearings, I always believed that a bipartisan vote was possible. And I hope I don't get them in trouble—I mean it sincerely—but I want to thank three Republicans who voted for Judge Jackson: Senator Collins, who's a woman of integrity; Senator Murkowski, the same way—in Alaska—and up for reelection; and Mitt Romney, whose dad stood up like he did. His dad stood up and made these decisions on civil rights.
They deserve enormous credit for setting aside partisanship and making a carefully considered judgment based on the judge's character, qualifications, and independence. And I truly admire the respect, diligence, and hard work they demonstrated in the course of the process.
As someone who has overseen, they tell me, more Supreme Court nominations as anyone who's alive today, I believe that respect for the process is important. And that's why it was so important to me to meet the constitutional requirement to seek the advice and the consent of the Senate. The advice beforehand and the consent.
Judge Jackson started the nominating process with an impressive range of support: from the FOP to the civil rights leaders; even Republican-appointed judges came forward. In fact, Judge Jackson was introduced at the hearing by Judge Thomas Griffith, the distinguished retired judge appointed by George W. Bush. She finished the hearing with among the highest levels of support of the American people of any nomination in recent memory.
So, soon, Judge Jackson will join the United States Supreme Court. And like every Justice, the decisions she makes will impact on the lives of America for a lot longer, in many cases, than any laws we all make. But the truth is, she's already impacting the lives of so many Americans.
During the hearing, Dick spoke about a custodial worker who works the night shift at the Capitol. Her name is Verona Clemmons. Verona, where are you? Stand up, Verona. I wanted to—if you don't mind. She told him what this nomination meant to her. So he invited Ms. Clemmons to attend the hearing because she wanted to see, hear, and stand by Judge Jackson.
Thank you, Verona. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
At her meeting with Judge Jackson, Senator Duckworth introduced her to 11-year-old—is it Vivian?
Audience member. Vivienne.
The President. Vi-veen.
Audience member. Vivienne.
The President. Vivienne. I'm sorry, Vivienne. There's—that's her. Is that your sister? He's pointing—[laughter]—who was so inspired by the hearing that she wants to be a Supreme Court Justice when she grows up. God love you. Stand up, honey. Am I going to embarrass you if I just ask you to stand up? Come on, stand.
There's tens of thousands of Viviennes all through the entire United States. She met Judge Jackson and saw her future. Vivienne, you're here today, and thank you for coming, honey. I know I embarrassed you by introducing you, but thank you.
People of every generation, of every race, of every background felt this moment, and they feel it now. They feel a sense of pride and hope, of belonging and believing, and knowing the promise of America includes everybody—all of us. And that's the American experiment.
Justice Breyer talked about it when he came to the White House in January to announce his retirement from the Court. He used to technically work with me when I was on the Judiciary Committee, and that's before he became a Justice. He's a man of great integrity. We're going to miss Justice Breyer. He's a patriot, an extraordinary public service [servant],* and a great Justice of the Supreme Court.
And, folks, let me close with what I've long said: America is a nation that can be defined in a single word. I was in the foot him—foot—excuse me, in the foothills of the Himalayas with Xi Jinping, traveling with him. I'd guess we traveled 17,000 miles when I was Vice President at the time. I don't know that for a fact.
And we were sitting alone. I had an interpreter, and he had an interpreter. And he looked at me. In all seriousness, he said, "Can you define America for me?" And I said what many of you heard me say for a long time. I said, "Yes, I can, in one word: possibilities." "Possibilities." That, in America, everyone should be able to go as far as their hard work and God-given talent will take them. And possibilities. We're the only ones. That's why we're viewed as the "ugly Americans": We think anything's possible. [Laughter]
And the idea that a young girl who was dissuaded from even thinking you should apply to Harvard Law School—"Don't raise your hopes so high." Well, I don't know who told you that, but I'd like to go back and invite her to the Supreme Court. She can see the interior. [Laughter]
Look, even Supreme Court of the United States of America.
Now, folks, it's my honor—and it truly is an honor; I've been looking forward to it for a while—to introduce to you the next Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Associate Justice-designate Jackson. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you all very much. Thank you.
Thank you so much, Mr. President. It is the greatest honor of my life to be here with you at this moment, standing before my wonderful family, many of my close friends, your distinguished staff and guests, and the American people.
Over these past few weeks, you've heard a lot from me and about me, so I hope to use this time primarily to do something that I have not had sufficient time to do, which is to extend my heartfelt thanks to the many, many people who have helped me as part of this incredible journey. I have quite a few people to thank. And as I'm sure you can imagine, in this moment, it is hard to find the words to express the depth of my gratitude.
First, as always, I have to give thanks to God for delivering me as promised and for sustaining me throughout this nomination and confirmation process. As I said at the outset, I have come this far by faith, and I know that I am truly blessed. To the many people who have lifted me up in prayer since the nomination, thank you. I am very grateful.
Thank you, as well, Mr. President, for believing in me and for honoring me with this extraordinary chance to serve our country. Thank you also, Madam Vice President, for your wise counsel and steady guidance. And thank you to the First Lady and the Second Gentleman for the care and warmth that you have shown me and my family.
I would also like to extend my thanks to each Member of the Senate. You have fulfilled the important constitutional role of providing advice and consent under the leadership of Majority Leader Schumer. And I'm especially grateful for the work of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, under Chairman Durbin's skillful leadership.
As you may have heard, during the confirmation process, I had the distinct honor of having 95 personal meetings with 97 sitting Senators. [Laughter] And we had substantive and engaging conversations about my approach to judging and about the role of judges in the constitutional system we all love.
As a brief aside, I will note that these are subjects about which I care deeply. I have dedicated my career to public service because I love this country and our Constitution and the rights that make us free.
I also understand from my many years of practice as a legal advocate, as a trial judge, and as a judge on a Court of Appeals that part of the genius of the constitutional framework of the United States is its design and that the Framers entrusted the judicial branch with a crucial, but limited role.
I've also spent the better part of the past decade hearing thousands of cases and writing hundreds of opinions. And in every instance, I have done my level best to stay in my lane and to reach a result that is consistent with my understanding of the law and with the obligation to rule independently without fear or favor.
I am humbled and honored to continue in this fashion as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, working with brilliant colleagues, supporting and defending the Constitution, and steadfastly upholding the rule of law.
But today, at this podium, my mission is far more modest. I'm simply here to give my heartfelt thanks to the categories of folks who are largely responsible for me being here at this moment.
First, of course, there is my family. Mom and Dad, thank you not only for traveling back here on what seems like a moment's notice, but for everything you've done and continue to do for me. My brother Ketajh is here as well. You've always been an inspiration to me as a model of public service and bravery, and I thank you for that. I love you all very much.
To my in-laws, Pamela and Gardner Jackson, who are here today, and my sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law, William and Dana, Gardie and Natalie: Thank you for your love and support.
To my daughters Talia and Leila: I bet you never thought you'd get to skip school by spending a day at the White House. [Laughter] This is all pretty exciting for me as well. But nothing has brought me greater joy than being your mother. I love you very much.
Patrick, thank you for everything you've done for me over these past 25 years of our marriage. You've done everything to support and encourage me. And it is you who have made this moment possible.
Your steadfast love gave me the courage to move in this direction. I don't know that I believed you when you said that I could do this, but now I do. [Laughter] And for that, I am forever grateful.
In the family category, let me also briefly mention the huge extended family, both Patrick's and my own, who are watching this from all over the country and the world. Thank you for supporting me. I hope to be able to connect with you personally in the coming weeks and months.
Moving on briefly to the second category of people that warrant special recognition: those who have provided invaluable support to me professionally in the decades prior to my nomination and the many, many friends I have been privileged to make throughout my life and career.
Now, I know that everyone who finds professional success thinks they have the best mentors, but I truly do. [Laughter] I have three inspiring jurists for whom I had the privilege of clerking: Judge Patti Saris, Judge Bruce Selya, and of course, Justice Stephen Breyer. Each of them is an exceptional public servant, and I could not have had better role models for thoughtfulness, integrity, honor, and principle, both by word and deed.
My clerkship with Justice Breyer, in particular, was an extraordinary gift and one for which I've only become more grateful with each passing year. Justice Breyer's commitment to an independent, impartial judiciary is unflagging. And, for him, the rule of law is not merely a duty, it is his passion. I am daunted by the prospect of having to follow in his footsteps, and I would count myself lucky, indeed, to be able to do so with even the smallest amount of his wisdom, grace, and joy.
The exceptional mentorship of the judges for whom I clerked has proven especially significant for me during this past decade of my service as a Federal judge. And of course, that service itself has been a unique opportunity. For that, I must also thank President Obama, who put his faith in me by nominating me to my first judicial role on the Federal district court.
This brings me to my colleagues and staff of the Federal District Court in Washington, DC, and the DC Circuit: Thank you for everything. I am deeply grateful for your wisdom and your battle-tested friendship through the years.
I also want to extend a special thanks to all of my law clerks, many of whom are here today, who have carved out time and space to accompany me on this professional journey. I'm especially grateful to Jennifer Gruda, who has been by my side since nearly the outset of my time on the bench and has promised not to leave me as we take this last big step.
To the many other friends that I have had the great, good fortune to have made throughout the years: from my neighborhood growing up; from Miami Palmetto Senior High School, and especially the debate team——
Vice President Harris. Right. [Laughter]
Associate Justice-designate Jackson. ——from my days at Harvard College, where I met my indefatigable and beloved roommates, Lisa Fairfax, Nina Coleman Simmons, and Antoinette Sequeira Coakley—they are truly my sisters.
To my time at Harvard Law School and the many professional experiences that I've been blessed to have since graduation: Thank you.
I have too many friends to name, but please know how much you've meant to me and how much I have appreciated the smiles, the hugs, and the many "attagirls"—[laughter]—that have propelled me forward to this day.
Finally, I'd like to give special thanks to the White House staff and the special assistants who provided invaluable assistance in helping me to navigate the confirmation process. My trusted sherpa, Senator Doug Jones, was an absolute godsend. He was an absolute godsend. He's not only the best storyteller you'd ever want to meet—[laughter]—but also unbelievably popular on the Hill, which helped a lot. [Laughter]
I'm also standing here today in no small part due to the hard work of the brilliant folks who interact with the Legislature and other stakeholders on behalf of the White House, including Louisa Terrell, Reema Dodin, and Tona Boyd, Minyon Moore, Ben LaBolt, and Andrew Bates. [Laughter]
I am also particularly grateful for the awe-inspiring leadership of White House Counsel Dana Remus; of Paige Herwig—where is Paige? And Ron Klain. They led an extraordinarily talented team of White House staffers in the Herculean effort that was required to ensure that I was well prepared for the rigors of this process and in record time. Thank you all.
Thank you, as well, to the many, many kindhearted people from all over this country and around the world who have reached out to me directly in recent weeks with messages of support. I have spent years toiling away in the relative solitude of my chambers, with just my law clerks, in isolation. So it's been somewhat overwhelming, in a good way, to recently be flooded with thousands of notes and cards and photos expressing just how much this moment means to so many people. The notes that I've received from children are particularly cute and especially meaningful because, more than anything, they speak directly to the hope and promise of America.
It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we've made it. We've made it, all of us. All of us. And our children are telling me that they see now, more than ever, that here in America, anything is possible.
Vice President Harris. That's right.
Associate Justice-designate Jackson. They also tell me that I'm a role model, which I take both as an opportunity and as a huge responsibility. I am feeling up to the task, primarily because I know that I am not alone. I am standing on the shoulders of my own role models, generations of Americans who never had anything close to this kind of opportunity, but who got up every day and went to work believing in the promise of America, showing others through their determination and, yes, their perseverance that good—good—things can be done in this great country: from my grandparents on both sides, who had only a grade-school education but instilled in my parents the importance of learning; to my parents, who went to racially segregated schools growing up and were the first in their families to have the chance to go to college.
I am also ever buoyed by the leadership of generations past who helped to light the way: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Justice Thurgood Marshall, and my personal heroine, Judge Constance Baker Motley. They, and so many others, did the heavy lifting that made this day possible. And for all of the talk of this historic nomination and now confirmation, I think of them as the true pathbreakers. I am just the very lucky first inheritor of the dream of liberty and justice for all.
To be sure, I have worked hard to get to this point in my career, and I have now achieved something far beyond anything my grandparents could have possibly ever imagined. But no one does this on their own. The path was cleared for me so that I might rise to this occasion.
And in the poetic words of Dr. Maya Angelou, I do so now, while "bringing the gifts . . . my ancestors gave." I—[applause]. "I am the dream and the hope of the slave."
So as I take on this new role, I strongly believe that this is a moment in which all Americans can take great pride. We have come a long way toward perfecting our Union.
In my family, it took just one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States. And it is an honor—the honor of a lifetime—for me to have this chance to join the Court, to promote the rule of law at the highest level, and to do my part to carry our shared project of democracy and equal justice under law forward, into the future.
Thank you, again, Mr. President and Members of the Senate, for this incredible honor.
NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 12:40 p.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., founder and president, Rainbow PUSH Coalition; and President Xi Jinping of China. He also referred to the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Vice President Harris referred to Associate Justices Sonia M. Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett; and her goddaughter Helena Hudlin. Associate Justice-designate Jackson referred to her brothers-in-law William Jackson and Gardie Jackson, and their respective wives Dana and Natalie; Patti B. Saris, judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts; Bruce M. Selya, judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit; former Sen. G. Douglas Jones, in his capacity as White House Nomination Adviser for Legislative Affairs during the Supreme Court confirmation process; White House Director of Legislative Affairs Louisa M. Terrell; Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs and Senate Liaison Reema B. Dodin; Special Counsel to the President Tona M. Boyd; Minyon Moore, leader of state and local affairs and multicultural strategies, Dewey Square Group, in her capacity as Nomination Adviser for Engagement; Ben LaBolt, partner, Bully Pulpit Interactive, in his capacity as Nomination Adviser for Communications; Deputy Press Secretary Andrew J. Bates; Senior Counsel to the President Paige L. Herwig; and White House Chief of Staff Ronald A. Klain.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Senate Confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson as a Supreme Court Associate Justice Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355372