Photo courtesy of Sarah Rayes and Avery Brown. University of Iowa law student Sarah Rayes (left) takes a selfie before getting on the plane to Washington D.C. to participate in events celebrating Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson's confirmation process. She's traveling with fellow students (left to right) Stella Npuepnang, Cassandra Erbynn and Avery Brown.
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By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio

This week a group of Black law students from the University of Iowa are setting aside their studies for a few days to witness Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation process in person, which begins today.

Even though their school schedules are pretty heavy, second year law students Avery Brown, Cassandra Erbynn and Sarah Rayes decided to fly to Washington D.C. to celebrate.

“This is a historical event. And just given that we are all minority students in law school, it’s just amazing to actually see and live through history as, you know, another Black woman and kind of watching her path up until this point. So it felt like a no brainer,” Brown said.

Although it’s spring break for the students, they will still miss some school work. They said their professors have all understood why they were going to the nation’s capital.

“Some things are worth making sacrifices for. And I think that’s one of these type of events,” Brown added.

Jackson would be the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, which is why the students said they couldn’t miss the opportunity to see a historic event for representation.

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Some things are worth making sacrifices for. And I think that’s one of these type of events.

Avery Brown

“When these opportunities arise, I feel like it’s something where you should just take advantage of them, because it’s just so rare and so historic,” Erybnn added. “It’s something that I would like to be able to remember and share with other people who can’t be there and share with my children one day.”

The students expect to be joined by dozens of other students in the festivities in Washington.

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“I’m looking forward to connecting with all the other Black law students that are going to be there. And just having that collective experience of celebrating this moment,” Rayes said.

Erbynn, Brown and Rayes said they look forward to having more representation and diversity not only in the world of law school, but in the highest court of the country. Both Erbynn and Brown are originally from Omaha, Nebraska and Rayes grew up in the United Arab Emirates. They all completed different undergraduate programs.

In 2020, University of Iowa’s College of Law reported its most ethnically diverse classes in its 155-year history — 24.6 percent of the incoming class that year were people of color.

Students of color make up almost 20 percent of the class of 2024.

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“As Black women in the legal profession, we’re the least represented group and to see her [Jackson] in this position would be very memorable for us,” Rayes said.

According to a report from the American Bar Association, a large majority of its members are white, at 86.7 percent. Only 3.3 percent of the members are Black. Hispanic/Latino members also make up 3.3 percent of overall membership.

Brown said many times, people within the legal profession have a certain idea of what a lawyer, judge or justice should look like.

“I think we’re just now getting to a point where, maybe we don’t need to have that same type of mold. I don’t know if it’s just amongst law students, but there’s a very pre-described role you have to take to get to the Supreme Court, and there’s not much deviation from it. So I think now we’re starting to have some flexibility,” Brown explained.

The students said they hope Jackson’s nomination can continue discourse about diversity within the legal field in the future. They look forward to a day when there may not be as many barriers for all in the legal field

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