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May 28, 2023

When Jennifer Chang’s daughter said she wanted her 4th birthday party theme to be female Supreme Court justices, Chang figured she would change her mind.

Her daughter, Jordan Nguyen, became obsessed with the justices earlier this summer after reading a book about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Chang thought that it would be a phase and that Jordan would ultimately decide she wanted a typical children’s party theme — maybe “Bluey,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” or “PAW Patrol.”

A few weeks ago, however, Jordan asked her mom for an update on her judges-themed party. Chang searched online for decorations, buying a cardboard cutout of Sonia Sotomayor, white balloons featuring Ginsburg’s face and Lego figurines of three of the justices to place on the cake.

At a children’s gym in Houston on Saturday, Jordan pulled a black gown over her pink dress and swung a gavel in the air as guests sang “Happy Birthday.”

“She doesn’t completely grasp the civic weight of what a Supreme Court justice does,” Chang, 35, told The Washington Post. “But I think she just really enjoys that these are important, special, smart people.”

In June, Chang’s husband, Paul Nguyen, took Jordan on her weekly library visit when he saw a children’s book about Ginsburg on the end of a table. He thought Jordan would enjoy the book, “I Look Up to … Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” by Anna Membrino.

It soon became one of Jordan’s favorites. She memorized facts about Ginsburg, such as when she was nominated to the Supreme Court (1993) and which president nominated her (Bill Clinton).

Although Jordan was captivated by the book, Chang had to level with her about some harsh, real-world truths about it. She was devastated when Chang informed her that Ginsburg is no longer alive. And she was surprised to learn that the illustration of Ginsburg lifting the Supreme Court building in the book wasn’t realistic.

Nevertheless, Jordan asked to check out more books about Ginsburg and other female Supreme Court justices. She next became interested in Sotomayor, who in 2009 became the first woman of color to serve on the Supreme Court. Chang renewed Sotomayor’s illustrated autobiography, “Turning Pages: My Life Story,” multiple times from the library until she just bought a copy.

Soon, Jordan had memorized facts about the six women who have served on the Supreme Court: Sandra Day O’Connor, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson. Conversations during family meals have turned from chatter about children’s TV shows to talk about the justices.

Jordan’s party theme for her 3rd birthday was Daniel Tiger, and this year Chang hoped Jordan would again pick that theme, or another popular one, so party planning would take only a few hours. But near the beginning of July, Chang recalled Jordan saying: “I don’t really like Daniel anymore. I like judges, and I like presidents.”

When Jordan asked her mom for party updates in the following weeks, Chang started looking for decorations.

Chang purchased most of the items on Etsy, including the Ginsburg balloons and Lego figurine justices for the cake. She found a high-resolution photo of Sotomayor’s face and made it into a cardboard cutout through Party City. An employee there thought Chang was decorating for her grandmother’s party.

Chang bought stickers of the judges, which she used as toppers for chocolate-chip muffins. She purchased a Swiss meringue buttercream cake with strawberry filling with the words “JUSTICE JORDAN” written on the top in pink frosting and a drawing of the Supreme Court building in gray frosting.

Chang also found a framed illustration of O’Connor, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan. She distributed copies of children’s books about Ginsburg and Sotomayor to guests. She made a sign that read “Welcome TO JUSTICE JORDAN’S 4TH BIRTHDAY PARTY.”

On Saturday afternoon, the kids ran and jumped around the gym for an hour before guests gathered near the cake in a separate room. Chang said she stopped Jordan from banging the gavel against the cake before her daughter blew out four candles.

One of Chang’s colleagues at the Houston Chronicle, where Chang is a managing editor, asked Vanessa Gilmore, a former U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of Texas, to record an audio message wishing Jordan a happy birthday. When Chang told Jordan that Clinton had nominated Gilmore, Chang recalled her daughter saying, “Just like Ruth.” The family has listened to the recording multiple times since the party.

Jordan, who turned 4 on Monday, asked to bring the party decorations home, where she is still playing with the deflated balloons and the Legos. But she has also picked out new toys.

The 4-year-old has been playing with Fisher-Price figurines of other female trailblazers, including Maya Angelou, Amelia Earhart, Sally Ride and her new favorite, Rosa Parks. She asked her parents to order their biographical books so she can learn all about them, too.