Students at local law school, professor, react to confirmation of Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — History was made this week, as Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed by the Senate as the next justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Justice Jackson will be the first black woman to serve on the High Court – it’s a historic appointment that inspires other women of color pursuing careers in law, including two here in West Michigan.

Kate Vassell and Frances Silney-Bah are both students at Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University. For Kate, it comes down to family, as her late mother and grandfather were both lawyers.

“It was actually one of the last conversations I had with my grandfather before he passed away,” Vassell said. “I told him I was going to study law.”

For Frances, she has dreamed of being a lawyer since she was a child. She says it was instilled in her by her immigrant parents, as they encourage her to pursue something meaningful.

This dream came true during a summer of protests.

“I was involved in the protests after George Floyd, that’s when I realized I could really help people who aren’t always supported by the criminal justice system,” Silney-Bah said. .

Seeing Judge Jackson confirmed to the United States Supreme Court made them realize that anything is possible.

Mark Dotson is their teacher. He says the historic moment was one he knew would eventually happen, but he just didn’t.

“She will definitely improve the field,” Dotson said. “You went from public defender to district court judge to circuit court judge and now to the Supreme Court? … We have a lot of people who have been told they can’t do things and for them this kind of shakes that idea.”

Silney-Bah is thrilled that Judge Jackson is inspiring not just her, but also future generations of black women who want to become lawyers.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud to be a black woman than I was yesterday,” Silney-Bah said. “Today I’m so thrilled, it’s an incredible moment and the sky’s the limit.”

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Jon J. Epps