Friday, December 8


It’s been a stressful week watching the disrespectful confirmation hearings of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson–not to mention continued slaughter in Ukraine.

But let’s talk for a moment about Judge Jackson’s heroine and role model, Constance Baker Motley.  

Judge Jackson cited this prominent Black female judge during her acceptance speech after President Biden nominated her to be the next justice added to the Supreme Court.

She was the first African American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court, and the first to serve as a federal judge,” according to this article on  

Judge Motley would have been an excellent nominee to the Supreme Court, but the nation wasn’t there yet.  She wrote much of the 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education.

Terry Gross featured an interview with Constance Baker Motley’s biographer Tomiko Brown-Nagin on NPR’s Fresh Air, Feb. 16.   

Brown-Nagin mentions that Motley knew civil rights activist Medgar Evers and mourned deeply when he was murdered.

I also heard this report on NPR’s Code Switch, which mentions that Judge Motley avoided the term “feminist” in the 1970s and ’80s, but she argued cases that were very important for women’s equality.

“Despite the Ludtke v Kuhn case, and other efforts to provide equal consideration for women in the workplace, Motley rejected the label feminist—even though some famous feminists, like Shirley Chisolm and Bella Abzug—were friends and colleagues”, the report says.

Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality is the title of Brown-Nagin’s biography, which came out in January, 2022.  Judge Motley also wrote her own autobiography.  

Here’s a historical note to ponder: there were no confirmation hearings for the first 127 years of the Supreme Court.  White men were just nominated and debated a little in the Senate; then the vote took place on whether to confirm them.

In 1916 when a Jewish man was nominated, the Senate decided to hold a hearing to thoroughly vet this alarming new kind of nominee. See the history explained in the Insider.

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