President Joe Biden named Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on Friday, honoring a pledge to appoint the first black woman in US history to the nation’s highest judicial body.
The sacred institution’s 115 appointments were far from groundbreaking in terms of diversity, but the court cites several key milestones in its storied 233-year history.
– First Catholic (1836) –
Known for his strident personality that made up for his frail physical stature, Roger Taney was the leader of the “Coodies” movement in the Federalist Party that supported the War of 1812.
Elected to the Maryland Senate in 1816, he eventually became a staunch supporter of Democrats and President Andrew Jackson, becoming the first cabinet candidate ever to be rejected by the Senate.
Jackson nominated Taney to replace Gabriel Duvall on the Supreme Court in 1835 and he was rejected again, to succeed Chief Justice John Marshall 10 months later.
– First Jewish Justice (1916) –
Democratic President Woodrow Wilson elected Judge Louis Brandeis on June 5, 1916. Although he was the first of eight Jewish judges to sit on the court, he was not the first to be offered the position.
Judah Benjamin rejected the nomination of President Millard Fillmore in 1853.
Melvin Urofsky’s biography of Brandeis describes the judge, who retired in 1939, as one of the most important and distinguished judges to have served on the court.
– First Black Justice (1967) –
Thurgood Marshall, nominated by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, served until 1991, when he was replaced by Clarence Thomas, the only other black judge in Supreme Court history.
However, LBJ didn’t care much for the landmark moment when he announced the nomination in 1967.
“I believe he deserved that nomination; he deserves the nomination,” Johnson said. “He is best qualified through training and through very valuable service to the country.”
– First wife (1981) –
It was Republican icon Ronald Reagan who eventually corrected the court’s shameful history of never having sat on a female judge.
Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed by the conservative president in 1981 and remained in office until her retirement in 2006. She is one of only five women to serve as judges.
“Society as a whole benefits greatly from an environment where all individuals, regardless of race or gender, have the opportunity to earn respect, responsibility, advancement and reward based on ability,” O’Connor once said.
– First Spanish Supreme Court (2009) –
Judge Sonia Sotomayor, appointed in 2009 by Democratic President Barack Obama and still in office, is the only Hispanic Supreme Court judge to date.
She described herself as “a product of affirmative action” during a panel discussion in the 1990s.
“I’m the perfect positive-action baby. I’m Puerto Rican, born and raised in the Southern Bronx,” she said. “My test scores were not comparable to my peers at Princeton and Yale.”