The Story Behind That Photo of Ketanji Brown Jackson and Her Daughter

When Sarahbeth Maney was tapped to photograph the confirmation hearings of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court, she knew she could be witnessing history.

What she did not know was that she would create one of the event’s most widely shared images.

“I did not expect it to gain that much traction,” Ms. Maney, a photography fellow for The New York Times, said in a phone interview. “I instantly posted it because I knew what I felt when I took the photo, and I really gravitated toward it.”

Out of the hearings have come countless powerful pictures of Judge Jackson — exhibiting stoicism in the face of aggressive questioning from Republican senators, wiping away a single tear as Cory Booker, the only Black senator on the 22-member Judiciary Committee, delivered words of reverence and encouragement: “You have earned this spot. You are worthy. You are a great American.”

But few images from this week’s hearings have resonated as widely as one photograph Ms. Maney, 26, took on the first day.

In it, Judge Jackson is smiling in the foreground but out of focus. The real subject is her teenage daughter Leila Jackson, who is seated behind the Supreme Court nominee and beaming with pride. Ms. Maney was standing on a step stool on the left side of the courtroom behind the Senate, cater-cornered from Judge Jackson and her family members.

“I just remember seeing Judge Jackson smiling a lot, and I think she was receiving compliments and praise,” Ms. Maney said. “And then I noticed how proud her daughter was of her, and it gave me chills when I saw this look that her daughter gave her. It was just this look of such pride and admiration.”

Ms. Maney, who is from the San Francisco Bay Area, said that when President Biden announced Judge Jackson as his official Supreme Court nominee four weeks ago, she knew she wanted to cover the confirmation process. As the first Black photography fellow for The Times, she said felt it was important “to provide the representation” at the hearings.

“On my average day, when I’m in the D.C. press pool, I am the only Black woman or Black photographer in general,” Ms. Maney said. “And during these hearings, it was the first time in my career where I worked alongside more than one other Black photographer, which is major to be able to share that space with people who understand the Black experience.”

Ms. Maney shared the photo on her Instagram account, where it quickly began gaining traction. Soon, she said, others were uploading it to Twitter, often without citing her as the photographer.

“I had just got done with the long workday and I got a text from a Times reporter who was like, ‘Hey, you need to tweet this photo out yourself because other people are like tweeting it and not crediting you,’” she said. “And I was kind of on the fence about whether to tweet it or not because it had already gained so much attention. But I just did it anyway. And then that tweet kept going on and on from there. So I’m really glad I decided to do it.”

The image resonated with thousands of users across social media, especially mothers, who found the moment between Judge Jackson and her daughter to be inspirational. People have called it “mom goals in a photo,” and said that “this look of pride in Justice Jackson’s daughter’s eye speak volumes about what this means for little girls of color.”

“We marvel at our children this way all the time,” another wrote, “but how often do we catch this level of pride and adoration from child to parent?”

Ms. Maney, who on Thursday was taking a day off from covering the confirmation hearings, said that witnessing the “roller coaster of events” and seeing her photo affect so many people online has been really special.

“It’s just been this very proud yet overwhelming moment, because I feel like I’ve worked so hard to get to where I am and to be recognized by so many people,” she said. “It’s just an incredible feeling, to put it simply.”



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