Biden nominates Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the US Supreme Court
If confirmed, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson would be the only U.S. Supreme Court justice with experience as a public defender. Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press.
Updated: U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has been nominated to replace Justice Stephen G. Breyer to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Jackson, 51, is a graduate of Harvard Law School and a former clerk for Breyer. President Joe Biden announced the nomination on Twitter and in a Feb. 25 press release.
The press release praised Jackson as “one of our nation’s brightest legal minds” and noted her “unusual breadth of experience in our legal system.”
Biden had pledged during his presidential campaign to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. When he introduced Jackson at a press conference Friday afternoon, Biden said he hoped that her nomination would inspire all young people to realize that they can one day serve their country at the highest levels.
“For too long, our government, our courts haven’t looked like America,” Biden said.
During the news conference, Jackson thanked family members, colleagues and the judges who hired her as clerks—including Breyer.
Breyer “not only gave me the greatest job that any young lawyer could ever hope to have,” Jackson said, “but he also exemplified every day, in every way, that a Supreme Court justice can perform at the highest level of skill and integrity while also being guided by civility, grace, pragmatism and generosity of spirit.”
“Justice Breyer, the members of the Senate will decide if I fill your seat, but please know that I could never fill your shoes,” Jackson said.
At the conclusion of the press conference, Jackson noted that she shared a birthday with the first Black woman appointed as a federal judge: Constance Baker Motley.
Jackson said she also shares Motley’s “steadfast and courageous commitment to equal justice under law.”
Jackson became Biden’s first confirmed appellate judge when the Senate approved her nomination to the D.C. Circuit in June 2021. Before that, she served since 2013 as a federal district judge in Washington, D.C.
If confirmed, Jackson will be the only Supreme Court justice with experience as a public defender. According to her court bio, she served as an assistant federal public defender in the appeals division of the Office of the Federal Public Defender in the District of Columbia. She also had experience on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where she worked as an assistant special counsel and later served as a vice chair and commissioner.
During her 2021 confirmation hearing, Jackson said her work as a federal public defender helped her recognize how little her clients understood about the legal process, according to a SCOTUSblog profile. As a result, she took extra care as a trial judge to help defendants understand what was happening, she said.
Jackson also saw the impact of the criminal defense system partly through the case of an uncle who received a life sentence in 1989 for a nonviolent drug crime under a three-strikes law. The uncle had asked Jackson for help in 2005 when she was a federal public defender. Jackson referred the case to a large law firm, which represented the uncle for free. He later received a sentence commutation from then-President Barack Obama.
The uncle was the older brother of Jackson’s father, who was a school board attorney. Before Jackson’s father became a lawyer, he and Jackson’s mother were public school teachers.
Jackson may be best known for her November 2019 opinion as a district judge that held that White House counsel Don McGahn must appear before the House Judiciary Committee. His testimony had been sought in an investigation of Russian election influence. “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.”
The D.C. Circuit later reversed the decision, holding that courts had no authority to resolve the dispute.
According to her appellate bio, Jackson also clerked for Judge Bruce M. Selya of the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Patti B. Saris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
She also worked as of counsel at Morrison & Foerster and as an associate at three law firms: Miller Cassidy Larroca & Lewin, Goodwin Procter and the Feinberg Group, according to the SCOTUSblog profile.
Jackson was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Miami.
“Judge Jackson stood out as a high achiever throughout her childhood,” according to the White House press release. “She was a speech and debate star who was elected ‘mayor’ of Palmetto Junior High and student body president of Miami Palmetto Senior High School. But like many Black women, Judge Jackson still faced naysayers. When Judge Jackson told her high school guidance counselor she wanted to attend Harvard, the guidance counselor warned that Judge Jackson should not set her ‘sights so high.’
“That did not stop Judge Jackson.”
Jackson currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Patrick, and their two daughters.
On Friday, ABA President Reginald Turner released a statement on Jackson’s nomination.
The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary “will immediately start its independent, nonpartisan peer evaluation of the nominee. The standing committee will work expeditiously to complete this process in a thorough and fair manner,” Turner wrote.
“While it is important to fill any vacancy to the Supreme Court in a timely manner, the Senate process of advice and consent must allow adequate time for thorough consideration of Jackson’s nomination and must not be rushed due to partisan considerations. That is essential to the process of assessing lifetime appointments to the highest court in the United States,” he added.
The standing committee gave Jackson a well-qualified rating in April 2021 when it evaluated her for the D.C. Circuit. It gave her a qualified rating in 2013 when it evaluated her for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
ABAJournal.com: “Possible SCOTUS nominee saw impact of criminal justice system in uncle’s case”
ABAJournal.com: “Biden’s first judicial picks include DC Circuit nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, said to be SCOTUS contender”
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Updated Feb. 25 at 9:28 a.m. to include news of Biden’s announcement. Updated at Feb. 25 at 1:50 p.m. to include information from the press conference. Updated Feb. 25 at 2:15 p.m. to include the ABA’s statement.