Chamyra Upshur said that as a child she didn’t have role models to look up to. Upshur, a second-year law student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation as the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court will motivate her to work harder.
“Everyone deserves representation. And for African Americans, it’s very rare that we see attorneys who look like us, who understand the things that we value and will ask the questions to protect our interests,” said Upshur, who grew up in Milton, Delaware.
Upshur, 24, said she hopes Jackson’s elevation to the court will result in positive changes to the criminal justice system — particularly in providing therapy to formerly incarcerated people as they reenter society, she said.
Born in Washington, D.C., Jackson grew up in Miami. Her brother, Ketajh Brown, worked for the Baltimore Police Department from October 2001 to May 2008, and was last assigned to the Eastern District. He’s currently a corporate attorney at K&L Gates law firm in Chicago.
Jackson was confirmed 53-47 by the U.S. Senate on Thursday, following days of contentious hearings in March and April. Brown is not the first Supreme Court Justice with Maryland ties: Others include Thurgood Marshall and Roger B. Taney.
Having a Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court is overdue, said Kimberly Moffitt, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“I’m not sure we could have put forward a more perfect candidate, although she was still challenged by individuals wanting to question her ability, her talent and skill set, but clearly she prevailed,” Moffitt said.
“Because her expertise, experience and background showed us what we need and what we want is a Supreme Court justice who is someone committed to the law and the constitution and not simply about politics,” she said.
Moffitt also wants changes made to the criminal justice system — particularly for Black people.
“The way that we have made decisions [that are] fair and impartial, and that justice is blind, but at the end of the day, we recognize that human beings are just that, human, and have made decisions that result in sentencing that is not impartial, and in fact causing tremendous harm to communities, in particular to Black communities as a whole.”
David Wilson, president of Morgan State University, said Jackson has a lived experience unlike any of the other eight Supreme Court justices. Having a diverse Supreme Court can impact voting rights, criminal justice and separation of powers, among other issues, he said.
“The Supreme Court needs justices that look like and have had experiences that are close to the rest of the country, and I hope that we are now moving [in] that direction,” he said. “I also hope that the next appointment [to the] court be an Asian American because we need to get away from this model of U.S. Supreme Court justices that really don’t have a clue as to the experiences of the nation.”
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement that Thursday was a historic day for the country.
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“I cast my vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court because she is one of the most qualified individuals ever nominated to this lifetime position. She has sterling legal credentials, depth of knowledge, immense integrity and — as we witnessed over days of marathon hearings — incredible judicial temperament,” he said.
“The Supreme Court makes profound decisions every day that affect the lives of people across this country and it is clear that Judge Jackson will work to preserve and protect the Constitution, and to make sure that all Americans are treated equally under the law.”
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement: “I am overjoyed to see Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed by the Senate, as she becomes the first Black woman to earn the title of Supreme Court Justice. This is an important stride for Black women in the legal profession, but more must be done in a country where Black women make up less than 2% of all attorneys. Today gives me hope that this number will change in the coming years.”
Upshur, who’s the first in her family to attend law school, said she faces challenges — including living away from family and spending early mornings and late evenings studying — but it’s worth it.
This summer, she will intern for Potter Anderson & Corroon in Wilmington, Delaware. While undecided about how she’ll use her law degree, she said her goal is to uplift the Black community.
“I can look up to [Jackson] and say, ‘Anything is possible.’ And she reinforces the idea that Black women are supreme,” she said. “I hope Black women everywhere are empowered and inspired by this monumental achievement.”