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Ohio Supreme Court’s first Black woman judge weighs in on historic SCOTUS nomination

Ohio State alum Yvette McGee Brown gives high marks to Ketanji Brown Jackson

From her vantage point as the first African American woman to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court, Yvette McGee Brown has a unique perspective on the prospect of Ketanji Brown Jackson becoming the first African American woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brown spoke about the historic development during a March 8 event at The Ohio State University marking International Women’s Day. “A View on the SCOTUS Nomination from One First to Another: Understanding the Necessity and Anticipating the Challenges of the First Black Woman Appointed to the United States Supreme Court” was presented by the College of Education and Human Ecology at the Ohio Union’s U.S. Bank Theater.

When President Joe Biden announced Feb. 25 that he was nominating Jackson to fill the seat of retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, McGee Brown, an alumna of Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, said she was filled with pride.

“It was just such an amazing time. It was a great time to be a Black woman lawyer in America, to see her step up, a woman who is enormously qualified,” McGee Brown said. “It’s not like she just went to law school, she went to Harvard, both undergrad and for law school. … It’s not just that she went to Harvard, she was the editor of the Law Review.”

Jackson’s nomination is unprecedented in many ways, McGee Brown said. Since the U.S. Supreme Court was established in 1789, 114 justices have served on the bench, according to Supremecourt.gov. Of those, 108 have been white men.

If confirmed, Jackson will be the third African American to serve on the Supreme Court, following Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. She will be the sixth woman, following Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett.

“It is beyond comprehension that a court that makes decisions that impact all of America is composed of people who represent less than half of America,” McGee Brown said. “If we are going to have a court that purports to make decisions that impact all of us, the court should look like more of us. I don’t think that’s an illegitimate goal at all.”

McGee Brown said she can relate to Jackson’s trailblazing status. McGee Brown was appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court by former Democratic governor Ted Strickland in December 2010 to fill the seat vacated by Justice Maureen O’Connor, whom voters elected chief justice in November 2010. McGee Brown assumed the office on Jan. 1, 2011, and was defeated in her 2012 bid to keep that office by Justice Sharon L. Kennedy.

“Ohio has had 161 Supreme Court justices,” said McGee Brown, who is now a partner in the Columbus office of law firm Jones Day. “Twelve have been women and four have been Black.”

McGee Brown recalled that her January 2011 swearing-in ceremony at the King Arts Complex in Columbus was such a momentous occasion that it drew spectators from all over Ohio.

“I remember standing up, looking out at that crowd, and in that moment, the tears just started coming,” McGee Brown said. “It was in that moment that I realized that it wasn’t really about me, it was about all of them. Those people came because it’s what they had worked for, for decades.”

While skeptics may focus on Jackson’s race and gender, her qualifications for the nation’s highest court are solid, McGee Brown said.

“She has the intellectual acumen, the training, the precision and brilliance that she’s going to be able to argue her case profoundly,” McGee Brown said. “And I know what will happen is that even when she’s on the losing side, she will write a dissent that will set the path, set the tone for the cases that come after.”

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