They could all feel the weight of history. Still, the mood was as light as the spring air as Ketanji Brown Jackson looked down at the crowd of smiling faces.
“It took 232 years and 115 prior nominations for a black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States,” the judge said in broad daylight. “But we made it!
The audience on the South Lawn of the White House stood, clapped and shouted with a rare purity of emotion.
Jackson added: “We made it – all of us. All of us. And our children tell me that they now see more than ever that here in America, anything is possible.
It was like the culmination of a journey. A day earlier, Jackson had been confirmed by the Senate as the first African-American female Supreme Court justice. In moving remarks Friday, she spoke not just of her journey but that of her ancestors: the 400-year story of African Americans encountering slavery and segregation with resilience, creativity and hope.
The atmosphere at the White House was joyful and celebratory – not a sentence has been much to write in the past five years. No doom or sadness about Donald Trump’s lies, the deadly pandemic or the war in Ukraine. Instead, the Marine Band played songs from the shows, including West Side Story. (“I love being in America…”)
And after a week of dark gray skies, pouring rain and surging coronavirus, the White House looked a little more majestic than usual in glorious sunshine. Fifty Stars and Stripes flags flew in a row. We could hear the birds singing. The relaxed and jovial crowd of hundreds erupted as Joe Biden, wearing sunglasses, Vice President Kamala Harris and Jackson made their way to the podium, to the sound of “Hail to the chief.”
But it’s Jackson’s note of grace at the end of the 45-minute show that will live on in the memory — and in the heart — and be studied by future historians and, she obviously hoped, by generations yet to be born.
The 51-year-old invoked figures such as Martin Luther King, the civil rights leader, Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court’s first black justice, and her “personal heroine”, Justice Constance Baker Motley, a former judge of the court District and State of New York. senator.
“They and so many others did the heavy lifting that made this day possible. And despite all the talk about this historic appointment and now its confirmation, I consider them the true pioneers. I’m just the very lucky first heir of the dream of freedom and justice for all.
Becoming in tears, putting a handkerchief to his nose, Jackson continued, “Certainly I have worked hard to get to this point in my career and I have now achieved something far beyond anything my grandfathers ever did. parents could have imagined. But no one does it alone.
“The way has been cleared for me to rise to this occasion, and in the poetic words of Dr Maya Angelou, I do so now, while ‘bringing the gifts my ancestors gave me’ .”
There was applause and she took a deep breath.
“‘I…I am the slave’s dream and hope’.”
It was a quote from Angelou’s poem Still I Rise.
A shiver of emotion ran through the crowd, which rose suddenly. It included 80-year-old Jesse Jackson, a civil rights veteran who was there when King was assassinated.
Her voice quivering with sentiment that seemed to match the enormity of the moment, Jackson, watched by her parents, husband and daughters, continued.
“As I take on this new role, I firmly believe this is a moment that all Americans can be very proud of.
“We have come a long way towards perfecting our union. In my family, it only took one generation to go from segregation to the Supreme Court of the United States.
It was hard to believe this was the same country that less than two years ago held a similar outdoor event for pre-Jackson appointee Amy Coney Barrett.
On that gray day, Trump was looking forward to tilting the court firmly in favor of the conservatives. The audience was noticeably less diverse than for Jackson. It also turned out to be a Covid super-spreading event. Time will tell if Friday goes the same way.
Jackson replaces retired 83-year-old Stephen Breyer, so the Liberals will remain firmly in the minority when, from October, she begins to hear vital cases on affirmative action, gay rights and voting rights.
This week, Mitch McConnell declined to say whether he would even grant an audience to another Biden pick if Republicans regain a majority in the Senate. Friday’s heady euphoria was but a brief respite from demands for structural reform to restore balance to the court.
But what a respite it was. Trump presented a vision of America, steeped in white identity politics and great men in history. It presented another, more generous in spirit, more authentic to the nation’s true origin story.
Biden said, “It’s not just a sunny day. I say this from the bottom of my heart. It’s going to let so much sun shine on so many young women, so many young black women, so many minorities that it’s real. It’s true! We’re going to look back – and nothing to do with me – we’re going to look back and see this as a moment of real change in American history.