IN A FORMAL, TRADITIONAL, and somber-toned room, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson stood for her first official portrait. Wearing all black, she posed before a black backdrop and studio lighting, the trappings of contemporary photography temporarily inserted into the White House complex space, literally disrupting history.

The Senate confirmed Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, April 7. The vote was 53 to 47, with all 50 Senate Democrats (including two independents who caucus with the party) and three Republican voting in favor of her appointment. Her thinly bi-partisan confirmation is historic. In June, when Jackson is sworn in as an associate justice, she will be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.

 


On Friday, the White House released Ketanji Brown Jackson’s first official portrait, photographed by Lelanie Foster. On Instagram, Foster posted the portrait and captioned it: “It was an honor, your honor. Today we made history.❤️ #KBJ.”

 

A young Black photographer from the Bronx, N.Y., Lelanie Foster captured her portrait on Friday morning. Wearing a determined and confident expression, Jackson looked away from the camera, gazing up and to the left, eyeing progress.

The opportunity was a “beautiful experience” for the photographer. “I definitely had an ‘Oh my God’ moment, and then the honor and gratitude and all the other emotions followed. The pressure was on to get an iconic shot!” Foster told Vogue.

After the portrait session, Jackson joined President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on the South Lawn of the White House to be formally introduced to the nation and make her first public remarks since her confirmation. “It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it. We’ve made it, all of us. All of us,” Jackson said to applause.

“I definitely had an ‘Oh my God’ moment, and then the honor and gratitude and all the other emotions followed. The pressure was on to get an iconic shot!” — Lelanie Foster

Foster’s portfolio is overflowing with powerful portraits. Woman are the subject of her most recent work. The assignment with Jackson followed a project that came about because of her news-making nomination. Foster photographed women from the Harvard Black Law Students Association for the New York Times.

Jackson is an alum of the organization whose members, male and female, have celebrated and been encouraged and inspired by her barrier-breaking rise from Harvard College graduate, Harvard Law School graduate, Supreme Court clerk, public defender, and vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, to U.S. District Court judge, U.S. Court of Appeals judge, and ultimately a lifetime appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“But there’s a comfort in community. There’s a comfort in shared experience. And now we have a role model who’s shown us what it’s going to take,” Mariah K. Watson, the president of the association told the Times.

Prior to Jackson, Foster’s work has focused primarily on fashion and editorial photography and entertainment industry shoots. She photographed on the set of the “Queen & Slim” and the HBO series “Insecure,” film and TV projects led by Black women. Foster has captured artist Lorraine O’Grady for the Times and for W magazine photographed artists Tau Lewis, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, Kandis Williams, alongside gallerist Ebony L. Haynes. She has also made portraits of Serena Williams and Misty Copeland for Architectural Digest (both are art collectors) and Andra Day for New York magazine’s The Cut.

Interviewed by The Cut about her time with Jackson, Foster said her husband and two daughters were present and that with her subject’s approval, she played Sade throughout the 45-minute portrait session. (At one point the future Supreme Court justice was dancing to the music.)

Foster said her approach to the portrait was consistent with her vision for photographing all Black women. “It’s always about poise. It’s always about strength, regalness, and reflection,” she told The Cut. “That’s always my guiding light when photographing us. That’s also how I guide through a shoot with us — I mean with anybody, but definitely the principle. And it’s important to express those feelings while we’re photographing so that the connection is made between myself and the subject. That’s what we’re striving to create.” CT

 

FIND MORE about Lelanie Foster on her website and Instagram

 

FIND MORE about Judge Jackson and her Supreme Court nomination

READ MORE The full transcript of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s post-confirmation remarks at the White House on April 8

READ MORE Over three days of confirmation hearings, Judge Jackson endured a relentless and hostile interrogation from Republicans on the Senate Judiciary committee

 

FIND MORE In Washington, D.C., artist Nia Keturah Calhoun spent the past week painting a mural honoring Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and it was scheduled to be unveiled today with a block party celebration

 

BOOKSHELF
In her White House remarks on April 8, 2022, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson acknowledged those who came before her, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) and “her personal heroine” Judge Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005). “Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary” is the definitive biography of the first Black person to serve on the Supreme Court. “Thurgood Marshall: His Speeches, Writings, Arguments, Opinions, and Reminiscences (The Library of Black America series)” collects his words and arguments. In 1966, Motley became the first African American woman to serve on the federal judiciary. Before serving as Manhattan borough president and a U.S. district court judge, Motley worked as an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Educational Fund, assisting Marshall during his tenure there. She successfully argued nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and represented James Meredith, the first African American student admitted to the University of Mississippi in 1962. His enrollment at the racially segregated school required federal government intervention. Motley authored the memoir “Equal Justice Under the Law.” Two more recent books also document her historic career: “Constance Baker Motley: One Woman’s Fight for Civil Rights and Equal Justice under Law” and “Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality.” Also consider “Thurgood,” “The Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership, and Legacy,” “Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History” and “Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History,” inspiring books for children.

 

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