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Formal investiture kicks off at Supreme Court for Justice Jackson

Before the Supreme Court can start a new term next week, it held a ceremony to mark the addition of its newest justice.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson sat on the bench for the first time Friday for her formal investiture. 

As is common for an institution rife with long-held traditions, the event is purely ceremonial. It occurs exactly three months after Jackson was sworn in as the 104th associate justice on June 30 when Justice Stephen Breyer stepped down from the court. While Jackson had yet to take the bench before today, she has spent the summer voting on emergency cases and reviewing petitions for writs of certiorari. 

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris — whose own historic election marked not only the first woman of color but the first woman in history to serve as vice president of the United States — attended the investiture Friday and spoke briefly with justices before the ceremony began. Biden’s nomination of Jackson fulfilled a campaign promise of putting the first Black woman on the highest court. 

In a sign of the court returning to its pre-pandemic procedures, attendees packed the courtroom to watch the short ceremony with masks far and few between. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only justice to don a mask. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as well as Senators Cory Booker, Sheldon Whitehouse and Ben Sasse were among the attendees. Former Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer were also in attendance. 

Like every justice who has taken the oath since 1972, Jackson began the ceremony by sitting in the chair used by Chief Justice John Marshall during the early 19th century. The rest of the eight justices were seated on the bench, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar and Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher were seated at the counsel table. 

After Clerk of the Court Scott Harris read her commission, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the judicial oath, and Jackson was seated on the bench. 

Following the ceremony, Jackson and Roberts walked down the courthouse steps. Outside of the building, spectators, reporters and courthouse staff watched as the newest justice descended the steps. 

Jackson was the first Black woman to participate in this ceremony and to serve on the high court’s bench. 

The event was not accessible to the public, and no cameras were allowed in the courtroom for the ceremony. 

Jackson joins the court on the heels of a contentious term that drove a nose dive in approval ratings and even left some of the justices wondering if its legitimacy is at stake. The new term is set to be no less divisive as the justices take on issues around race, elections and speech. 

Jackson's background included a clerkship for her predecessor, Justice Breyer. Prior to her Supreme Court ascension, Jackson served on the D.C. Circuit and the United States Sentencing Commission. Jackson also makes history as the first federal public defender to join the court. 

The Supreme Court’s new term begins Monday. After over two years, the public will be invited back into the courtroom for oral arguments this term. 

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