Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to Supreme Court  | Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
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Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Back issues
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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.

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

“It's my honor to introduce to the country, a daughter of former public school teachers, a proven consensus builder, an accomplished lawyer, a distinguished jurist, one of the nation's most on one of the nation's most prestigious courts, my nominee for the United States Supreme Court Judge Ketanji Jackson,” Biden said Friday afternoon in remarks on Jackson’s nomination.

Biden said he focused on choosing a nominee who would be worthy of Justice Breyer’s legacy. Consulting members of both parties and leading legal scholars when making the decision, Biden said was looking for someone with “a pragmatic understanding that the law must work for the American people.” 

“For far too long our government, our courts, haven't looked like America,” Biden said. “I believe is time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications.”

Jackson thanked Biden for his focus on the nomination, despite other pressing matters on this plate.

“Mr. President, I am truly humbled by the extraordinary honor of this nomination, and I am especially grateful for the care that you have taken in discharging your constitutional duty in service of our democracy with all that is going on in our world today,” Jackson said. 

Acknowledging the seat her nomination would fill, Jackson said her time clerking for Justice Breyer was the greatest job any young lawyer could hope to have.

“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.

Republican criticism of the appointment began meanwhile even before Biden’s official announcement. Senator Lindsey Graham called Jackson's nomination proof that “the radical left has won President Biden over yet again.” Graham was one of the Republican senators to vote for Jackson’s earlier appointment to the D.C. Circuit. 

“I expect a respectful but interesting hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Graham said in a statement. 

Labor groups, on the other hand, have praised Biden’s choice. 

“We applaud President Biden for nominating Judge Jackson to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement. “Her previous work as a public defender, as an advocate for reforming our criminal sentencing laws, and prior judicial rulings show she will affirm the rights of regular American workers and everyday citizens while holding accountable those who break the law — even the most powerful among us.”

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. 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.

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.” 

The White House called Jackson “one of the nation’s brightest legal minds,” highlighting her clerkship for Breyer and her bipartisan confirmation to the D.C. Circuit, when it announced her nomination on Friday. 

“Judge Jackson is an exceptionally qualified nominee as well as an historic nominee, and the Senate should move forward with a fair and timely hearing and confirmation,” the White House said in a statement. 

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. 

“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. 

Follow @KelseyReichmann
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