Judge Jackson’s Curious Agnosticism On Who Is aAWoman

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 22, 2022. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson spent much of yesterday contradicting various progressive pieties and embracing the theoretical basis and methodological assumptions of originalism, so it seems telling that the two places where she was unable to cross the red lines of leftist ideology were in defining who a woman is and defining when human life begins. As Maddy notes, it is particularly odd for Judge Jackson to put off the question of defining a woman by saying she’s not a biologist, given that the biological answer is the easiest way of all to answer the question (one wonders how many progressive biologists would duck the question by saying it’s not a biological inquiry).

It’s also deeply ironic, given how much of the hearing was devoted to encomia to Jackson specifically as the first black woman nominated for the job. The irony runs deeper: Jackson herself repeatedly used the word “woman” in her own testimony. She told Senator Dianne Feinstein that “Roe and Casey are the settled law of the Supreme Court concerning the right to terminate a woman’s pregnancy.” When Feinstein asked her, “What it would mean to have four women serving on the Supreme Court for the first time in history?” Jackson responded:

Thank you, Senator. I think it’s extremely meaningful. One of the things that having diverse members of the court does is it provides for the opportunity for role models. Since I was nominated to this position, I have received so many notes and letters and photos from little girls around the country who tell me that they are so excited for this opportunity, and that they have thought about the law in new ways. Because I am a woman, because I am a black woman, all of those things people have said have been really meaningful to them. And we want, I think, as a country for everyone to believe that they can do things like sit on the Supreme Court. And so having meaningful numbers of women and people of color, I think matters. I also think that it — it supports public confidence in the judiciary when you have different people, because we have such a diverse society.

She told Richard Blumenthal that, “I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to serve in this capacity, and to be the first and only black woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court.” She told Chris Coons, in describing a sex-offense case that, “I sometimes still have nightmares about, the main witness — the woman I mentioned earlier, who cannot leave her house because of this kind of fear, the vulnerability, the isolation.” She told Ben Sasse that, “I know that after Casey, the court has determined not so much that the right to terminate a woman’s pregnancy is fundamental.”

Of course, nobody actually believes that Ketanji Brown Jackson doesn’t know what a woman is. Refusing to answer the question is an insult to everyone’s intelligence, and everybody understands that her refusal is driven entirely by a political ideology not shared by most Americans.