Race for Governor
In the more than 245 years of America’s history, a Black woman has never held the position of governor in any state. This year, women across the country are trying to change that. Capital B’s state and local politics reporter, Chauncey Alcorn, sat down with Deidre DeJear, gubernatorial candidate in Iowa, and Connie Johnson, a gubernatorial candidate in Oklahoma, to learn more about their attempt to break this political glass ceiling.
Both candidates talked about the importance of Black women seeing their own importance, potential, and power. Johnson talked at length about the myriad ways she had been counted out, from doubts about her ability to raise money to lack of party support. Still, she said that never stopped her. “We either find a way, or we make a way,” she said.
DeJear echoed similar sentiments, noting that the idea of a Black woman running for state office is another form of service, something Black women in the United States know well. “Black women throughout this entire country have been public servants in a variety of spaces,” she said. “But it’s incredibly important now that we give Black women that space to not only be public servants, but lead the charge.”
A Historic Nomination
On the heels of the historic nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson — the first Black woman to ever be nominated to the country’s highest court, Capital B’s national criminal justice reporter, Christina Carrega, was joined by Janai Nelson, president and director co-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. They discussed the powerful and upsetting moments during Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing, and what it meant for Black Americans. Below is an excerpt of their discussion.
Christina Carrega: Fatima, what does the presence of a Black woman on the Supreme Court change? Who does this really benefit?
Fatima Goss Graves: It changes the issues that are on the table. People bring their whole selves. People don’t like to think of judges in that way, but they’re also humans. And so people bring their whole selves and their life experiences to conversations. And so it matters that the Supreme Court has not had those perspectives, even as their decisions, as Janai said, so deeply impact the lives of Black people – Black women in particular. It also is the case that we have had one Black person on the Supreme Court these last three decades as the only Black voice on the court. And what that has meant is that in a number of important cases, he by himself has been the person to provide the perspective of the Black experience in this country. So having multiple perspectives is a thing that I think will make the court better. And then I guess my last point here, because I’ve been thinking about it a lot, the court is considering a range of issues that so deeply impact the lives of Black people in this country, whether it is voting or access to abortion care. And there are not Black people arguing the cases in these situations. There isn’t a Black woman justice currently on the court as these cases are being considered. It does a disservice to the court itself. It does a disservice to the court itself for people to not see themselves represented at all in it as a body, and so it will add to the court’s legitimacy to be a body that is more diverse.
Carrega: Janai, your organization supported Judge Jackson’s nomination, “without reservation” after an extensive review of her professional record. Was there anything within her resume that you were surprised to learn about her and that would strengthen when she becomes the justice?
Janai Nelson: What was deeply impressive was the very humanistic approach that she takes to sentencing and to understanding that people who have been convicted of crimes are still people and still deserving of rights and protection. She has a lot of law enforcement people in her family. She was supported by not only the NOBLE, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement [Executives], but also the Fraternal Order of Police. So it’s clear that she is not a ”soft on crime judge.” She is very much someone who seems to believe in law enforcement and believe in accountability. But what I love that she brings to the table is an example of how you can hold those ideas and hold those beliefs and also sentence, rule, decide issues regarding people who have been convicted of crimes with compassion and with an understanding of their full humanity. And I think that’s something she’s going to bring to the court by virtue of her criminal defense background and her lived experiences, because not only does she have law enforcement in her family, she also has a person in her family who was incarcerated. So I think she really understands the complexity of our criminal legal system, and I look forward to seeing that complexity play out in the decision-making on the court.