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Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to Supreme Court

If confirmed, the appeals court judge will be the first Black woman to sit on the high court’s bench

President Joe Biden nominated D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court on Friday to fill the vacancy that will be created with Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement at the end of the term.

The native Washingtonian was seen as a shoo-in for the position following her bipartisan appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last June. If confirmed, Jackson would be the high court’s first judge who is a Black woman. At age 51, lifetime appointment means she will likely serve for decades. 

Jackson previously worked on the staff of the United States Sentencing Commission, a position for which she was nominated by President Barack Obama, and as an assistant federal public defender in Washington, D.C. Obama also nominated Jackson to as a U.S. district judgeship, where the reversal rate for the more than 550 decisions she made was only 2%.

Though she began her career at a Washington law firm, Jackson left only nine months later when she got a coveted clerkship at the Supreme Court with none other than Breyer. 

“All three of my clerkships were very different and very interesting but being on the Supreme Court was amazing,” Jackson said during a 2017 speech at the University of Georgia School of Law’s 35th Edith House Lecture. “And even today, I feel so lucky to have had the chance to work inside an institution that has such a significant impact on the lives of Americans and that few people even get to see much less be part of.” 

When talking about her time as a public defender during her 2021 confirmation hearing, Jackson said that she was struck during this time by how little her clients knew about their trial proceedings.  

“Most of my clients didn't really understand what had happened to them,” Jackson said. “They've just been through the most consequential proceeding in their lives and no one really explained to them what they were supposed to expect. So they didn't know where things might have gone wrong.” 

Jackson said she took this experience and used it when she became a trial judge, taking the extra time to make sure defendants knew what was happening to them and why. 

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“I think that's really important for our entire justice system because it's only if people understand what they've done, why it's wrong, and what will happen to them if they do it again, that they can really start to rehabilitate,” Jackson said. “So there's a direct line from my defender service to what I do on the bench.” 

On the bench, Jackson became known as a detailed and thorough judge. In 2019 she made headlines in a consequential ruling forcing former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify during former President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings. 

“Presidents are not kings,” Jackson wrote. “This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.” 

During her confirmation hearings for the D.C. Circuit, she made a point to note that her rulings are based on law and not her personal beliefs. 

“​When you become a judge, you take an oath to look only at the law in deciding your cases,” Jackson said. “That you set aside your personal views about the circumstances, the defendants or anything else, and you and you apply the law.” 

Jackson penned her first opinion on the D.C. Circuit at the beginning of the month, backing public-sector unions challenging a policy used under former President Donald Trump to limit the government’s responsibility to bargain with unions over workplace changes. The ruling was applauded by union groups and called a victory for all federal workers. 

Prior to joining the D.C. Circuit, Jackson also blocked executive orders from Trump limiting federal workers’ rights. 

According to Jackson’s youngest daughter, the appointment to the high court was a long time coming. In a 2017 speech, Jackson recounted how her daughter wrote a letter to President Obama when the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat opened up. 

“Dear Mr. President, while you are considering judges to fill Justice Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court, I would like to add my mother, Ketanji Brown Jackson, of the district court to the list,” Jackson recounted in her speech, reading the letter from her daughter. “I, her daughter Leila Jackson of 11 years old, strongly believe that she would be an excellent fit for the position. She is determined, honest, and never breaks a promise to anyone, even if there are other things she'd rather do. She can demonstrate commitment, is loyal, and never brags. I think she would make a great Supreme Court justice, even if the workload will be larger on the court or if you have other nominees.”

Jackson was born but not raised in Washington. Her parents — two public school teachers at the time — moved their family to Miami when she was 3 years old. Jackson dates her interest in law back to preschool when her father — who would become the principal attorney for the Dade County School Board — would sit at their dining room table with her while she colored and he studied to earn his law degree. She later joined high school’s debate team, going on to attend Harvard University and Harvard Law School.

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Tom Williams/AP pool photo

Ketanji Brown Jackson is President Joe Biden’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court to replace Stephen Breyer. She would be the first Black woman to serve on the court if she is confirmed. Brown Jackson is pictured here testifying during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, on April 28, 2021.