By Corinne A. Williams, National Institute for Workers’ Rights PHT Attorney Fellow
The confirmation of a Black woman to the Supreme Court will be a huge affirmation of what we already know to be true, that there are and have been scores of Black women who are more than qualified to serve on the Supreme Court in its 232-year history. Black women are some of the most brilliant and tactful jurists on the bench and there is a very long list of Black women attorneys who are powerful advocates in the courtroom, strong leaders in boardrooms, and brilliant thinkers in academic settings. There has never been a shortage of Black women who are deeply qualified to serve. But, despite the national treasure that we have in highly qualified Black women, there is an enormous lack of willingness of those in power to elevate us to positions of power and influence in this country.
This is an extraordinary moment—for all Black women and Black people, for all women, and for all working people. We are eager to see President Biden’s commitment to nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court fulfilled, because we know that this moment in history is not only overdue, but will bring the Court a critically important perspective that it has long missed.
Lived experience has everything to do with perspective, and matters in ensuring a deeper understanding of the facts that give rise to some of the most significant legal questions. Increasingly our federal courts, including our nation’s highest Court, have sided with corporations; with the rich and powerful, over the rights of everyday working people. A robust judiciary with representation on the bench of judges from diverse backgrounds is essential in ensuring a legal system that protects the rights of everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful.
Diverse decision-making bodies that include a wide array of people with different life experiences are at the heart of decision-making that is equitable and fair. This new diversity on the Court will increase the public trust in the Supreme Court, chipping away at its long history of exclusion of Black women, women of color, and indeed, all women. Not only will the Court become fairer, but the glass ceiling will continue to be shattered and doors will open for so many more women of color to lead in all the ways we are so well-qualified to lead.
What does this have to do with workers’ rights? Black women, unpaid and paid, have been integral to the workforce and supply chain since 1619. As laborers and reproducers, Black women have worked in every industry and have contributed to this country’s growth as a nation as much or more than any other group. Comparably, Black women have the highest labor force participation rate amongst women in the United States. According to the Department of Labor, Black women were participating in the workforce at 58.8 percent compared with all other women at 56.2 percent.
Rulings that affect the lives of millions of working people should be decided by a Supreme Court that includes Americans who reflect the lived experiences of the people of our country, and Black women bring a distinct perspective that has never been present on the Court. To sit at the intersection of Blackness and womanhood is a unique experience where fairness in everyday life is something that cannot be assumed. We cannot know or measure in advance what a Black woman on our highest Court will do, but I know it will bring us a step closer to justice, which is needed now more than ever.