OPINION: Make-up of U.S. Supreme Court is a-changin’

Presidents continuing to incorporate diversity on bench



If confirmed, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be the first African American female to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court since its establishment.

SAMANTHA RADCLIFFE, Evergreen columnist

As Bob Dylan would say, the times they are a-changin’.

For about the first century and a half following the establishment of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1789, the bench consisted of elderly, white men. 

But in 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson broke the glass ceiling by appointing Justice Thurgood Marshall to replace Justice Tom C. Clark, making Marshall the first African American justice in history.

From that day forward, both Republicans and Democrats have recognized the need for diversity within the U.S. Supreme Court, appointing women or minorities when the opportunity presents itself.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as the first female justice in history.

In 1991, President George H. W. Bush appointed Justice Clarence Thomas as the second African American justice.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second female justice.

In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic justice and third female justice in history. The following year, he also appointed Justice Elena Kagan as the fourth female justice.

Surprisingly, in 2020, President Donald Trump appointed Justice Amy Coney Barrett as the fifth female justice.

Who would have thought that he had it in him, right?

Many individuals may feel frustrated by the lack of efficiency with incorporating diversity into the bench. However, it is important to remember that the U.S. Supreme Court justices are lifetime appointees, with an average tenure of 16 years

Therefore, change is slow. What matters is whether the trend continues – and it is!

On Feb. 28, President Joe Biden followed through on his campaign promise by nominating Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace Justice Stephen Breyer in the U.S. Supreme Court. 

If confirmed, Jackson will be the first African American female to sit on the Supreme Court, shifting the current make-up to five males and four females, with three people of color.

Many individuals are thrilled about this nomination, including myself.

Freshman psychology major Cristal Ibarra-Mendez said she could not find any words when she found out about the nomination. 

“I was overwhelmed with joy. At this moment in time, there is not much good in the world, but when this news came out, it was as if all the bad was gone,” Ibarra-Mendez said. “She is helping so many young Black women to set their dreams higher and to believe that they can achieve anything their heart desires.”

Likewise, Gisselle Salazar, junior political science pre-law and comparative ethnic studies dual degree, said she was very excited to hear about the nomination.

“I have high hopes for [Jackson] due to the fact that she will be representing her community as well as other POC,” she said. “I have been following up on her past work, and she has helped many individuals across the board, in a sense ‘making a dent.’”

Salazar said that Jackson is very qualified for the job, as she has served various roles throughout her career.

“We need to have more representation within the courts, and being able to see a woman of color sit in positions of power makes me feel empowered,” she said.

It is exciting to live in an era of significant change. When the nomination is confirmed, I and many others around the nation are looking forward to seeing what Jackson can do on the U.S. Supreme Court.