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A lifetime ‘first,’ local legal community reacts to Jackson’s confirmation

As Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson becomes a justice-in-waiting, her role beginning in October following Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement, Wisconsin lawyers are beaming with pride as Jackson this week became the first Black woman confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court on a 53-47 vote. Jackson will sit beside three other women justices and one other Black justice.

Brittani Miller

Brittani Miller, an associate at Michael Best and Wisconsin Association of African-American Lawyers board member, discussed the magnitude of the confirmation and the challenges of being a “first” at anything.

“The confirmation is huge. For Justice Brown Jackson to be confirmed is confirmation for the legal community as a whole, especially the African-American community. It’s continuing to show the world that the diversity in representation is necessary and required. We do have the body and brains to fill these positions,” said Miller.

Jackson’s confirmation follows a path set forth by Condoleezza Rice as the first Black woman to be named secretary of state, former President Barack Obama and current Vice President Kamala Harris, something Ashley Smith of Godfrey & Kahn says there are no words for.

Ashley Smith

“For me, this confirmation is very personal as a Black woman and a Black lawyer,” said Smith, WAAL’s president-elect. “To be alive for the first Black woman to be confirmed on SCOTUS, there are really no words to explain this moment. It’s amazing for generations coming after me because this representation is going to be influential and inspiring for the little Black boys and girls to follow in her footsteps. She’s the first and won’t be the last.”

Judge M. Joseph Donald of Milwaukee County’s Court of Appeals District 1, echoed the gravity of this historic moment for the legal community.

Judge M. Joseph Donald

“It’s very emotional. Knowing how the appellate process works, I’m pleased that she will be in the room when those discussions are being had. I will look to as a marker in my life and say I was glad that I was able to witness. Her sheer presence and appointment is just a wonderful.”

Shelia Thobani

A former assistant city attorney for the city of Milwaukee and new mom, Shelia Thobani of Buelow Vetter is hopeful for the qualified and unique perspective Jackson will bring to the Supreme Court.

“I am full of joy and excited that this ‘first’ is happening during my lifetime,” Thobani said. “This is especially important to me because my newborn daughter will grow up with Justice Jackson on the bench. This is huge for the legal community, and particularly encouraging in Wisconsin where we are seeing an increasing number of BIPOC female judges across the state.”


About Ali Teske

Ali Teske is the legal reporter for the Wisconsin Law Journal. She can be reached at (414) 225-1825 or [email protected]

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