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Civil rights activists rally behind Supreme Court pick — and prepare for the backlash

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yesterday, history was made when Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court. NPR's Sandhya Dirks reports that civil rights activists are rallying behind the choice and preparing for the possibility of a rough confirmation process.

KIM TIGNOR: It was pure joy.

SANDHYA DIRKS, BYLINE: That's Kim Tignor. She's one of the four founders of sistascotus.com. They're a group of Black women who came together in 2020 to make sure there was a Black woman on the Supreme Court.

TIGNOR: We've been anxiously waiting for this White House to name the nominee.

DIRKS: They're all in a room together celebrating what feels like a big win. Here's Sabriya L. Williams, another SistaSCOTUS (ph) co-founder.

SABRIYA L WILLIAMS: Between the four of us, we have five daughters.

DIRKS: She says their daughters saw a president bookended by women who look like them, his vice president and his Supreme Court nominee.

WILLIAMS: So he was sandwiched in-between. I mean, chills, goosebumps.

DIRKS: LaTosha Brown is the co-founder of Black Votes Matter. She says this is something she and other activists made happen.

LATOSHA BROWN: I just could feel these hot tears fall down my face.

DIRKS: Brown says she took a second to sit with the moment, and then another reality came flooding in.

BROWN: Regardless of how prepared she is, regardless of how brilliant she is, I anticipate we're going to see attacks and attacks on her character.

DIRKS: Because she says, if you're a Black person fighting for civil rights, you celebrate the win, and then you prepare for the backlash.

BROWN: She doesn't deserve that. But I'll just say, you know, we're ready for a fight.

DIRKS: Brown says organizers' next steps are clear to lift.

BROWN: To life up her, record to lift up who she is so that, in the communities, that they know who she is, that America should be celebrating.

DIRKS: And who is she? Well, that's key, says Brendon Woods. Woods is one of only two chief black public defenders in California. He says it's a big deal that she will be the first justice who's been a public defender.

BRENDON WOODS: Being a public defender is really, really the civil rights attorneys of our generation. You know, they're literally fighting for people's freedom every day.

DIRKS: He says they expect some will attack her because of that.

WOODS: If anyone is going to be able to hold ground and to put up a fight for our civil rights, it's going to be a Black woman, a Black woman public defender.

DIRKS: All of this is playing out in the context of an increasingly disappointed and exhausted Black electorate, says Charlane Oliver, an organizer in Nashville.

CHARLANE OLIVER: What we have seen over the past year is that the policies we've been championing and asking for have not materialized into policy change. And so I think people are exhausted. People are fatigued and, quite frankly, depressed.

DIRKS: She's not sure this nomination is enough to get voters excited. And Oliver says even if it does, in Tennessee, they are facing redrawn maps that suppress the Black vote. Brandi Colander with SistaSCOTUS says she knows people are tired, but...

BRANDI COLANDER: We're getting the feedback that this is a very big win in terms of feeling seen.

DIRKS: It's not just SCOTUS. They're also focused on the congressional confirmation of eight other Black women judges because they want to make sure that Ketanji Brown Jackson is not the last Black woman on the Supreme Court. Sandhya Dirks, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sandhya Dirks
Sandhya Dirks is the race and equity reporter at KQED and the lead producer of On Our Watch, a new podcast from NPR and KQED about the shadow world of police discipline. She approaches race and equity not as a beat, but as a fundamental lens for all investigative and explanatory reporting.

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