For me, an African American woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, experienced federal administrator, federal attorney, and jurist, Ketanji Brown Jackson’s victorious landing on America’s highest court is very personal, highly symbolic, and of extreme political importance. Like many people in the United States, we share similar backgrounds and experiences. She too is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, experienced federal administrator, federal attorney, and jurist. We were each raised by loving parents who were denied America’s promise and freedoms in the Jim Crow South. Our parents, despite horrific roadblocks, taught us to strive for success not only for ourselves but also as a bridge for future generations.
Hon. Maxine Aldridge White, Marquette 1985, was appointed to the District I Court of Appeals in January 2020, becoming the first woman of color to serve on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. In 1992, she was the second Black woman appointed – and later the first elected – to the bench in Milwaukee County and Wisconsin. She has been reelected six times, most recently to the court of appeals in 2021.
In 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court appointed Judge White as chief judge for the Milwaukee County circuit and municipal courts. As chief judge, in addition to leading the courts, she was chair of the Milwaukee Community Justice Council, which works collaboratively to ensure a fair, efficient, and effective justice system that enhances public safety and quality of life in the community.
Judge Jackson earned this position not because of her race and gender but because of her integrity, scholarship, and exemplary determination to compete for and to do the work of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. She arrives in the 232nd year of our nation’s highest court, after a period of 177 years in which the only people even considered for the Supreme Court were white men. She arrives nearly 160 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and almost one year after that event was at last officially recognized as a national holiday, Juneteenth Day. Yet, despite Judge Jackson’s triumphant rise being symbolic of the obstacles encountered and overcome by Black Americans, and despite her unique accomplishments, including earning two Harvard University degrees, being an editor of the Harvard Law Review, presiding over and practicing before federal trial and appellate courts, clerking for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, and having experience that exceeds that of every sitting and former supreme court justice, some people seek to denigrate the value that her work and her life’s journey will bring to the Supreme Court, the United States, and all people to whom Judge Jackson will be an inspiration.
This moment could not have arrived at a more significant time. The United States will be so much better served because Judge Jackson, a Black woman who successfully fought and persevered, will be able to bring those invaluable perspectives into play as she participates in decisions of extraordinarily monumental importance. Equally as important, in her position on the Supreme Court, Judge Jackson will be able to extend her voice and intellect, to hear, speak up, and render her position on cases and issues of great significance to individuals and entities involved in particular issues, and to the nation at large.
During the Senate confirmation hearings, many people demeaned themselves and their positions by attempting to disrespect and dishonor Judge Jackson’s journey and her success. Through it all, she maintained a majestic composure and a superlative demeanor. This is a lesson to anyone who must endure and persevere against the forces of racial and gender bias that seek to diminish the promise of America and our personal and professional gifts. Judge Jackson is and will be a beacon of inspiration to our nation, our children, and our profession, extending a clarion call for each of us to work hard, help others, and strive for excellence.
Judge Jackson earned this position not because of her race and gender but because of her integrity, scholarship, and exemplary determination to compete for and to do the work of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
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What is the most memorable trip you ever took?
In September 2005, I was selected by the International Judicial Academy to participate along with 19 American judges in its First Sir Richard May Seminar on International Law and International Courts at The Hague, Netherlands. We were not tourists, but students with front-row seats in “the world’s courts.” Engaging international jurists and renowned legal experts walked us through the operations of at least six international tribunals, including the International Court of Justice (or World Court), the arm of the United Nations responsible for handling disputes among the member states.
The most significant event during our visit was watching the Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in session for the first genocide case brought against a former head of state – the trial of Slobodan Milosevic. For me, memories of the Milosevic trial, and the current suffering in Ukraine reemphasize and solidify the importance of the work done by the international courts.
Hon. Maxine Aldridge White, Wisconsin Court of Appeals District I, Milwaukee
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» Cite this article: 95 Wis. Law. 72 (June 2022).