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Judge Jackson's journey to the Supreme Court has been a personal moment for many

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Never before was a Black woman confirmed to a seat on the Supreme Court until yesterday.

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VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: The yeas are 53. The nays are 47. And this nomination is confirmed.

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INSKEEP: Vice President Harris, whose own election passed several milestones, presided over the Senate vote for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's elevation to Justice Jackson. The people watching include the law student we have on the line, Dara Ferguson, who is the incoming president of the Harvard Black Law Students Association. Welcome to the program.

DARA FERGUSON: Thank you for having me, Steve.

INSKEEP: What kind of conversations have you and your fellow law students been having about this development?

FERGUSON: Well, this occasion is momentous for us - momentous for myself as a Black woman, momentous because Ketanji Brown Jackson, now Justice Jackson, walked the halls of Harvard Law School and was a part of a Black Law Student Association. And so to see her be nominated and then confirmed to the highest court is something that is inspiring. It shows us that the American dream is becoming more tangible for African Americans, especially descendants of slaves. And so, like, seeing her confirmation was something that was - that not only brought joy to a lot of people, but also something that just, like, gave us hope.

INSKEEP: Gave you hope - does this influence how you think about your own career?

FERGUSON: Yes, it does. As someone who is a current law student in her second year of law school, like, I do endeavor to be a judge. And seeing her confirmation and seeing how she was questioned gave me confidence that - despite the fact that I will be in a room and I will always be questioned, even if I have the stellar qualifications such as Justice Jackson - that I can make it through that process and that I can see it through to the other side.

INSKEEP: Did you feel like the questions were fair?

FERGUSON: I don't think that the questions were fair. I think that because of her qualifications - we see that she was overqualified, and as a Black woman, you see that you have to work twice as hard just to get a seat at the table. And we see that from her record, not only did she clerk on the Supreme Court, was she a public defender, did she go to Harvard Law School - she had all the checkmarks, but her character was still under play. She was asked questions about race that had nothing to do with her job. And I think that some of the questions were not fair.

INSKEEP: What did you think about when Senator Tom Cotton got his social media moment this week by saying on the Senate floor that she might defend Nazis? I think he was referring to the fact that she'd been a public defender and trying to imply she'd been soft on crime and so forth.

FERGUSON: I think that her role as a public defender is literally a lawyer for the people. And the Constitution necessitates that individuals have free legal counsel. And so I think that she would actually add balance to the bench. We have a lot of individuals on the bench who have been prosecutors and legal scholars. And so for that take to be said about her - and it's also a defamation of her character - was disgusting, but also just showed that, like, we don't know our own legal history. We don't really know the Constitution, and we don't understand how lawyers work.

INSKEEP: We were talking about the firsts of this confirmation - first Black woman on the Supreme Court - but I wonder if you have put your finger on something that is also significant, maybe almost as significant. It's kind of normal to have someone from Harvard on the Supreme Court - happens all the time. There are several justices with a Harvard background on the Supreme Court now. It is unusual to have a public defender in that role.

FERGUSON: Yes, it is.

INSKEEP: Do you think that that is part of the perspective that she will bring to this court, even though she's going to be, in terms of politics, in the minority? It is still a 6-3 conservative majority on this court.

FERGUSON: I think that everyone holds multiple identities, and no one's a singular identity. And because she has held many positions, one of them being a public defender - she's also been a judge, and I think that focusing on a singular aspect of her life when she's contributed so much to the law and to the profession is doing her disservice. And so, yes, she will bring her expertise as a public defender. She'll bring her expertise as a judge. And I believe that she'll be able to provide a fair account in operating on the Supreme Court. And I do believe that her service as a public defender will allow her to provide the perspective on clients who need free legal counsel.

INSKEEP: One of the things - she described herself almost as an originalist in these hearings. She said, my job is to interpret the words on the page, not to make new law. Do you think that she's a - maybe conservative is not quite the word, but less liberal than she was portrayed by her critics?

FERGUSON: I'm not sure whether I would put a label on her because we have yet to see how she operates in the Supreme Court. So I'm happy to see and read what her opinions look like, but I'm not sure at this moment.

INSKEEP: Dara Ferguson is currently earning her law degree at Harvard Law School and is the incoming president of the Harvard Black Law Students Association. Thanks so much.

FERGUSON: Thank you so much for your time, Steve.

INSKEEP: Enjoyed it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.