Photography lesson

Lesson of the Day: “How a High School Debate Team Shaped Ketanji Brown Jackson”

Update, April 8: The Senate on April 7 confirmed Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the first black woman to be elevated to the top of the judiciary.

Featured article: “How a high school debate team shaped Ketanji Brown Jackson” by Patricia Mazzei

President Biden said Friday he would appoint Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who announced last month that he would retire at the end of his current term this summer. If confirmed, Judge Jackson, a highly regarded federal appeals court judge, would make history by becoming the first black woman to serve as a judge.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how Judge Jackson’s high school debate team shaped her dream of becoming a judge and prepared her for a career in law. Then we invite you to write about how curricular or extracurricular activities are preparing you to achieve your future goals, or to share what Justice Jackson’s nomination means to you.

What do you know about the Supreme Court and its role in American society?

The court stated its objective as follows:

‘Equal Justice Under Law’ – These words, written above the main entrance to the Supreme Court building, express the ultimate accountability of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court is the nation’s highest court for all cases and controversies arising out of the Constitution or laws of the United States. As the final arbiter of the law, the Court is charged with assuring the American people of the promise of equal justice under the law and, therefore, also functions as the guardian and interpreter of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court is made up of nine justices, who are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by a majority vote in the Senate. Judges sit on the court for life or until they choose to retire.

What is you What are the most important qualities of a Supreme Court justice? Make a list as long as possible. Then share your list with a partner. Which characteristics do you agree on? What do you disagree with? Discuss your answers and explain your thinking.

Read the articlethen answer the following questions:

1. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court pick, attended Miami Palmetto Senior High School. The school has an impressive reputation. Why is he famous?

2. Judge Jackson said being on the school’s debate team “was the one activity that best prepared me for future success in law and in life.” What skills has she learned from the debate that could be useful to her as a judge and, potentially, a Supreme Court judge?

3. Why do you think the author included an anecdote about Judge Jackson’s experience with prejudice in her high school? What does it tell us about the judge?

4. Why do you think the author mentioned the resumes of other debaters at school? What point could she be trying to make about the team and Judge Jackson?

5. What do past and present debaters at Palmetto High say they got from the debate team? Write about how any of these things could help young people navigate both school and life beyond the classroom.

6. Based on what you learned about Justice Jackson and the qualities you listed in the warm-up activity, do you think she would make a good Supreme Court justice? Give at least two reasons to support your opinion. What else would you like to know about her to be able to answer this question?

Option 1: How is school preparing you for your future?

Judge Jackson has often spoken about the importance of her high school experience and how it prepared her for life as a lawyer.

What are your goals, whether for a career or another life experience? How do you think the school helps you achieve them?

Spend a few minutes reflecting on your experiences at school or in extracurricular activities, then write about how you think they might prepare you for your future. Here are some prompts that can help you get started:

  • What was your school experience like? What were the best and worst times for you?

  • What skills have you learned that you think could be useful for a career or life experience you want to have?

  • What relationships have you formed that have helped you navigate school? Do you think any of them will last into adulthood?

  • What challenges did you encounter? How did you face them? What did you learn from the experience?

Option 2: Measure the impact of Judge Jackson

If confirmed, Justice Jackson would be the first black woman to serve on the Supreme Court in its 233-year history. In your opinion, what is the importance of his appointment?

To answer this question, you could spend several minutes doing your own research or exploring some of the following resources from The Times and elsewhere:

  • Visit the Supreme Court’s official website to read short biographies of the current nine members, see a list of everyone who has served since the Court was established in 1789, and view an online exhibit that features group photographs of each class of judges since the tradition began in 1867. What do you notice about judges past and present? How does Judge Jackson compare?

  • Learn more about Justice Jackson’s career and why President Biden chose her as his candidate in this article. Do you think she would make a good Supreme Court justice?

  • Read this essay from the Times editorial board or this piece by Times Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak about the extent to which, if confirmed, Justice Jackson could shape the Court. What difference do you think it could make?

  • Read an opinion piece by Charles M. Blow, opinion columnist for the Times, who argues that “The appointment of Supreme Court justices has always been about identity and politics. It’s just that for almost the first two centuries of the court’s existence, the only people considered to be included were white men. Do you agree?

After learning more about Judge Jackson and the background of the Court, discuss the following questions with your classmates:

  • The New York Times called Judge Jackson’s appointment “groundbreaking.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

  • What would it mean for the country to have a black woman on the Supreme Court? What would that mean for you, personally?

  • How important do you think it is for a president to consider the identity of a Supreme Court nominee?

  • Would you like Judge Jackson to be confirmed? Why or why not? What qualities does she have, or lack, that you think make an effective Supreme Court judge?


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