Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Criticized For Having a Harvard Education

picture of Ketanji Brown Jackson
Source: Associated Press
Written by Guy Nave

President Biden has nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Several Republicans have wasted no time criticizing Biden’s nomination. Most Republican opponents are making spurious claims regarding Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s record on crime and the support she holds from left-wing groups.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for only having “published a total of two opinions” since she was confirmed to D.C.’s federal appellate court last year. McConnell ignores the fact that she wrote more than 500 opinions in the eight years she spent on the district court.

Of all the Republican criticisms, Senator Lindsey Graham offers the most disingenuous and hypocritical criticism. In July 2021, Graham voted for Jackson to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Graham now, however, describes Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as a pawn of the radical left. Graham claims that “the radical left has won President Biden over yet again.” Interestingly, he also criticizes Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for her Harvard education.

The Senator from South Carolina placed his support behind Judge J. Michelle Childs. Childs is an African American woman and U.S. District Court judge for South Carolina. According to Graham, the fact that Childs did not attend Harvard or Yale is “a plus.”

In response to Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Graham declared, “The Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court continues to run unabated.”

While now criticizing the Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court, Senator Graham did not criticize Brett Kavanaugh’s Yale education. When Professor Christine Blasey Ford brought accusations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, Graham single-handedly saved Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

During Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, Graham spoke forcefully and angrily in support of Kavanaugh. Graham accused Democrats of wanting to “destroy this guy’s life.” He went on to say, “To my Republican colleagues, if you vote ‘no’, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing that I have seen in my time in politics.”

Graham did not consider a Yale education as something to hold against Kavanaugh. He also argued that it was “despicable” to even investigate accusations of rape and sexual assault against Kavanaugh.

Republican Presidents appointed six of the current nine justices, and five of them graduated from Harvard or Yale. Amy Coney Barrett is the only judge currently on the bench not having graduated from Harvard or Yale.

Graham suddenly criticizes the “Harvard-Yale train to the Supreme Court” when Biden nominates a black woman with a degree from Harvard to serve on the Supreme Court. According to Senator Graham, the absence of a Harvard education makes Judge J. Michelle Childs a better candidate. The absence of a Harvard education is “a plus.”

The criticism of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for having a Harvard education is reminiscent of the criticism of Senator Barack Obama when he was the Democratic nominee for President. Despite Obama’s modest roots, many Republicans depicted Obama as an elitist. This was primarily because Obama graduated from Columbia University and earned a law degree from Harvard University.

Going as far back as the era of slavery in America, black people were prevented from seeking the highest levels of education possible. In The Souls of Black Folk. W.E.B. Du Bois asserted,

The South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro. And the South was not wholly wrong; for education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent.

Regarding educational attainment, there has always been a double standard regarding the value of having the best academic education possible. Many white Americans see an elite education as an asset for white people but a liability for black people.

While Judge J. Michelle Childs would be an equally good nominee for appointment to the SCOTUS, I’m appalled that Graham asserts the absence of a Harvard education makes her a better candidate than Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is not a better nominee than Judge J. Michelle Childs because she has a Harvard degree. Neither is Judge J. Michelle Childs a better nominee because she lacks a Harvard degree. BOTH are qualified–with or without a Harvard degree–to serve on the highest court in the land.


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About the author

Guy Nave

Guy Nave is a professor of religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. His research focuses on the topics of Christianity, religion and social justice, the social construction of religious meaning, and race-religion-and-politics. Professor Nave is currently researching the power, politics, and meaning behind the rhetoric of "change."

He is the author of several articles and book chapters, and he served as a New Testament Greek translator for the 2011 Common English Bible. His commentary on 2 Corinthians is published in the African American New Testament Commentary, and his book, The Role and Function of Repentance in Luke-Acts has been identified as “the standard scholarly work on repentance in the New Testament.”

Guy Nave received his Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and his Ph.D. in New Testament studies from Yale University. In addition to his blog posts here, he is a frequent contributor to Sojourners Magazine's online "Commentary" blog series.

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