Ketanji” isn’t a run of the mill name in the United States. The mere utterance of the name “Ketanji” marks a significance in the Court from other female names like Amy, Sonia, Elena and male names of Clarence, John, Neil, Stephen, and Samuel. “Ketanji” is a name that takes up space, and a name that heralds to the listener that a truth will be spoken.
At the time of her birth, her aunt, who was in West Africa with the Peace Corps, provided a list of African girls’ name possibilities to her parents, from which they selected “Ketanji Onyika” (Lovely One).
In March, U.S. Representative James Clyburn tweeted: “Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is eminently and uniquely qualified to serve on our nation's highest court.”
The name “Ketanji” is a disruption of the conservative bent of the court. Justice Jackson Brown with her first name of “Ketanji” ascends to the highest court in the land. The Court will mold to fit her in, not the other way around. A judicial figure like Justice Jackson Brown is who the framers had in mind–in terms of gravitas, not gender– when they said, “All men are created equal.”
Not just landed, slave-holding white men, but a Black woman from Miami with an African name. Someone born in a state, which was not even part of the original 13 U.S. colonies, on land stolen from the Native Americans, and “discovered” by Spain and acquired by the United States.
Ketanji. It’s a hard “j.” In English, the letter “j” is a voiced postalveolar affricate. The postalveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue near or touching the back of the alveolar ridge, which is slightly further back in the mouth, but not as far back as the hard palate. The Cambridge dictionary describes this class of consonants as “made in the place between the top of the teeth and the highest part of the mouth.”
The emphasis on the hard “j” linguistically, a sit up and take notice consonant, marks an auspicious shift in the balance of the court.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary describes “justice” as “the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity.”
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation to the United States Supreme Court restores my faith that one day the U.S. Supreme Court may again provide a much-needed check on our government’s executive and legislative branches as the Court upholds the tenets of our Constitution.
I used to keep Erwin Chemerinsky’s “The Case Against the Supreme Court” as my permanent reading on my nightstand. After the Senate voted to confirm Jackson, I put that book away.
Emerging from our darkest hours as a nation in recent history, the confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson will mark a new page in the court. A woman inspired by Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Belva Lockwood, Susan B. Anthony, Constance Baker Motley, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Indira Gandhi, Barbara Jordan, Shirley Chisholm, and Eleanor Roosevelt so that she can “keep putting one foot in front of the other every day.”
The past few years there has been an abysmal slide for emancipatory constitutional rights as conservative freewheeling and neoliberalism backed corporatism and Confederate-era racism run amuck.
What Justice Brown Jackon’s place on the Supreme Court of the United States does creates is more discussion, debate and dialogue, which will move from a robust dissent toward a majority opinion through her judicial philosophy and ability to bring about change.
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1944 decision of Korematsu v. United States, but upheld the odious Muslim Ban in Trump v. Hawaii.
In Korematsu, the Supreme Court upheld the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, ruling that national security concerns outweighed the individual rights of American citizens. The first time the Court applied strict scrutiny to racial discrimination by the U.S. government, belying the idea that strict scrutiny is "strict in theory, fatal in fact."
When the Muslim Ban decision was issued, I literally felt the floor slip under me. How would I answer to my children? How could this court do this? I was in Anaheim, California, for the National Environmental Health Association’s Annual Meeting in 2018 that summer. I immediately scrapped plans to attend that day’s conference and took my kids with a double stroller in tow to a protest in Anaheim, California. A crowd of local activists, led by Muslims, were present.
Four years later, the difference is stark.
It’s a confirmation that gives us hope and courage.