Jasleen Singh: What The US Supreme Court Confirmation Of Ketanji Brown Jackson Means To Me As A Sikh
"Her career tells me that she shares my own Sikh values of justice, defending others, and pursuing a more equitable society."
April 7, 2022 | 3 min. read | Opinion
During my first semester of law school, I learned two fundamental truths about my chosen profession: first, the law has always been an invisible force in my life. As someone privileged enough to not grow up routinely contending with law enforcement, I had no idea how significantly the law shapes my decisions – as a child of immigrants, as a woman, as a student loan borrower, as a traveler. Second, I learned that the law has been fashioned by white men, to the detriment of communities of color.
Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Black woman, will bring a historic presence and often overlooked life experience to the bench. And I am overjoyed by her to become our next Supreme Court Justice.
As a threshold matter, she has a storied career in public and private practice, including as a Supreme Court clerk and a federal court judge for the past nine years. But as a Sikh and as a civil rights attorney myself, what is most meaningful to me about her professional experience is her time as a public defender and on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Sikh history taught me our Gurus defended those who could not defend themselves – that our ancestors constantly challenged oppressive regimes. Sikhi, at its core, is the unequivocal commitment to equality and justice, regardless of race, gender, or faith. And that is the ethos that Judge Jackson embodies in many ways.
Judge Jackson spending two years as a public defender tells me that she is the kind of lawyer who is committed to justice for all. Public defenders represent individuals accused of crimes who cannot afford their own lawyer. To be a public defender is to believe that every person deserves their day in court, regardless of the crime and regardless of their wealth. It is the commitment to represent the outsized number of Black and brown people who are ill-served by our criminal justice system. The only other Supreme Court Justice to have a similar experience was Justice Thurgood Marshall, who we can thank for successfully advocating for desegregation in schools as a litigator in Brown v. Board of Education.
Judge Jackson’s stints at the sentencing commission display her commitment to equality within a criminal justice system that disparately incarcerates marginalized people. Her career tells me that she shares my own Sikh values of justice, defending others, and pursuing a more equitable society.
The protection of the law has historically excluded people who look like me – a Sikh, Punjabi woman. Likewise, the law has certainly excluded people who look like Ketanji Brown Jackson. For hundreds of years, legislators and courts could do nothing but justify slavery and its institutional legacies. The law, much like history, is crafted by its authors. So when the authors of court decisions have by and large been white men, it follows that the law serves that very demographic.
Beyond her qualifications, it is Jackson’s point of view that is needed at this moment on the Supreme Court. Homogeneity on the bench is homogeneity of the law, resulting in decisions made without perspective or understanding of the diversity of lived experience. And the cases likely to be heard by the Supreme Court in the coming years are certain to touch on race and women’s rights, as well as voting rights, gun control, and climate change. Ketanji Brown Jackson will not only bring her perspective to the questions she asks and opinions she writes, but importantly, the justices with whom she shares the bench.
I had the privilege of visiting the Supreme Court a few years back and learned that the justices – conservative, moderate, and liberal – will often eat together, at the same table. They are colleagues after all. And to have a colleague who is a Black woman, who comes from parents who grew up in a segregated school system, who has family subjugated to the criminal justice system, Jackson’s perspective will be critical on the new court.
The pursuit of justice is meaningless unless court decisions actually benefit the public. She represents the best of us - the success of women, the success of people of color, and the success of being a lawyer who prioritizes justice for all Americans. I hope you will join me and SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund) in celebrating this historic moment.
Jasleen Singh is an Opinion Writer at the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and voting rights lawyer practicing in New York. Previously, Jasleen served as Deputy Attorney General at the California Attorney General’s Office, Civil Rights Enforcement Section. Singh received her BA from the University of California, Berkeley, and her JD from Berkeley Law School. Jasleen also produced and directed the Sikh Monologues, an ethnographic performance uplifting Sikh stories.
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