Less than an hour after the Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, Sherrilyn Ifill, former president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, walked into Sen. Cory Booker’s office on Capitol Hill.
The two locked in a prolonged embrace, her husky frame draped over his smaller one, and she told him, “You had our back. You had our back. You had our back. You had your back,” repeating the phrase like an incantation as Booker wept into his shoulder.
This “our” contains multitudes. He invokes all those who have left this world, or remain in it, who live or have lived with the gnawing truth that “I always had the talent, but I never had the chance”. This “our” is the black people. “Our” are black women.
Justice Jackson’s achievement is hers, deserved and deserved, but she stood up and was covered by the prayer power of millions of black women. And while only black women could fully access the excitement in the air Thursday, the joy and relief of finally being seen, there were also those in Washington who did what they could to offer solace. and support, especially those in power, for people like Booker, the only black senator to ever serve on the Judiciary Committee when a black candidate appeared for his confirmation hearing.
Jackson had many allies among the Democrats on the committee, but none of them stood out more as a balm and sanctuary for beleaguered Jackson than Booker, the face that most closely resembled his own.
During the hearing, Booker gave an impassioned speech in which he confessed, “You have earned this place. You are worthy. You are a great American. Jackson pushed up his glasses and wiped away his tears. Booker’s assertion had hit the nerve.
I traveled to Washington on Thursday to see Booker and watch history be made. Before the vote, we sat in his office, which is dominated by a nearly two-story wooden bookcase with an extension ladder and brass hardware.
He compared Jackson’s treatment at the hearing to that of Amy Coney Barrett, calling Barrett’s hearing “very respectful” and saying, “We all conducted ourselves in a way that I think has brought dignity to the process.” Jackson’s treatment, he said, “wasn’t that.” As he said, “there was a level of disrespect and contempt that I had never seen before with other Supreme Court Justices.”
He saw Thursday as “a day of healing,” a reaffirmation of the faith of black people in this country. “Many of us want to believe in America’s promise,” he told me. “You get tired of clinging to this dream. And you really want to hold on to any indication that your faith and love for this nation is justified.
After our conversation, I rode the Senate subway with him and his staff members, almost all women of color, from his office building to the Capitol. From my seat in the gallery overlooking the Senate floor, I could see the faces of the senators as they voted, saying “yes” or “no” each time their name was called. When Booker’s name came up, he stood up and shouted “YES” to laughter from the gallery. Sen. Ted Cruz appeared to wince when Mitt Romney, who was seated next to him, voted affirmative – one of only three Republicans to do so.
Tim Scott chatted endlessly with a neighbor until his name was called. He recklessly voted “no,” the only black senator to do so, before leaving the room. Senator Lindsey Graham stuck a thumbs down through the locker room door.
Soon the voting was interrupted. Rand Paul was not in the room and had not voted. As the senators began to move around, Booker worked the room, hugging, shaking hands, patting shoulders and chatting. At one point, he approached Vice President Kamala Harris on the dais, and Raphael Warnock joined them, patting Booker on the shoulder. I could see Harris giving each of the men a sheet of paper.
A black woman sat down next to me and said of Paul’s absence and the resulting delay, “It’s passive-aggressive. He’s here.” Disrespectful, I thought. Soon he, too, stuck his thumbs down through the locker room door. I could see he wasn’t even wearing a suit jacket.
And then it was over. History was made. There, in a room surrounded by busts of first vice presidents — white men, some slavers — carved in white marble, Jackson’s confirmation was announced by the first vice president who is neither white nor male.
The chamber erupted in a standing ovation, an instant response to a promise kept, to a faith kept.
Booker lingered in the chamber, long after most of the other senators had left. He returned to his seat, slapped his heart with his right hand, wiped more tears from his eyes (now you can tell how many times he cries) and lowered his head. He told me later that he was praying, gathering himself before facing the press.
In Booker’s office after the vote, I asked him about the paper Harris had given to him and Warnock. He replied that she had encouraged them to write a letter to someone. “I think she just kind of saw us nodding her head, and she said, ‘No, no, no,’ and she opened her book and passed them each a piece of her writing paper. head, the only two she had on her, Booker said.
Harris wanted these two black men, who had just voted to confirm the first black woman Supreme Court justice, to write a letter of encouragement on the stationery of the first black woman to serve as vice president.
I asked Booker if he knew who he would send his letter to. He said he had already “thought about a lot of little girls in my life” but was still deciding.
So many black girls needed this moment, needed this win, and so many of them could benefit from getting a letter, from Booker, telling them what he told Jackson: You’ll make your moments on your own. merits, but the support and encouragement you receive will come from those close to you. We will support you.