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Black Dane Co. judges reflect on historic U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing

Jackson is the first Black woman to be nominated for the high court.
Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 10:26 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Honorable Reverend Everett Mitchell doesn’t have to wear a black robe to know the weight it carries.

He tuned in, as the nation did, for a week of historic confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“Traditionally, judges don’t look like us, and so it’s very important that representation matters,” Judge Mitchell said.

“I think the perception sometimes is that if you’re young and you’re Black, you’re more aligned to be in the criminal justice system, rather than being the ones who are bringing fairness to the system.”

Judge Mitchell is one of three Black judges currently serving the Dane County Circuit Court. He has sat on the bench since 2016, admitting that early in his career, he wanted to prove his merits.

“One of my mentors used to always tell me that when you come into the room, you have to announce where you got your degrees from,” the 44-year-old judge said. He holds degrees from Morehouse College and Princeton Theological Seminary.

He also looks to other judges to break the glass ceiling.

Judge Jackson is the first Black woman to be nominated for the high court. Following her time as vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, public defender and Supreme Court clerk, among other titles, Jackson’s confirmation hearing wrapped Thursday. She faced more than 20 hours of tough questioning from lawmakers.

In a key moment this week, Sen. Cory Booker (D - New Jersey) praised her accomplishments.

“You got here how every Black woman in America who’s gotten anywhere has done, by being, like Ginger Rogers said, ‘I did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards in heels,’” Sen. Booker said.

Judge Mitchell said he was emotional watching the exchange: “That’s what makes it hard, when he said that she kept fighting even though others said, ‘No.’”

His reflections on Judge Jackson’s career are personal in many ways. He thinks about his 16-year-old daughter and who she could potentially look up to on the nation’s highest court.

“Maybe that will be the proudest day I have,” he said, “when I’ll sit behind her as she’s sitting in front of a Senate table, giving her testimony about what she wants to do and the kind of justice she wants our country to have.”

The Honorable Nia Trammell, Dane County’s first Black female judge, wrote to NBC15, in part:

“The pinnacle of any person’s legal career is an opportunity to sit on the country’s highest court. She [ Jackson] has put in the work. All that I have seen from the confirmation process demonstrates that she is supremely and preeminently qualified. It is right at her fingertips. This brings a sense of validation. A sense of affirmation. A sense of pride.”

The next phase of Jackson’s confirmation process is set to begin Monday, when Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee can push back the vote for a week. It means the committee is likely to vote on her nomination April 4.

The full Senate vote has not been scheduled yet. Democrats can confirm Jackson even if no GOP members vote in favor.

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