If approved by the Senate, federal appellate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, will make history as the first Black woman to sit on the country’s top court.
Jackson would bring new perspective to the job, and at age 51, she may serve for decades to come. However, there is little reason to think she can do much to change the court’s conservative trajectory and ideological balance in the short run.
Still, having a Black woman on the court may affect the other justices’ thinking in subtle ways. At her 2021 confirmation hearing for the appellate court, she said, “I’ve experienced life in perhaps a different way than some of my colleagues because of who I am, and that might be valuable — I hope it would be valuable if I was confirmed.”
Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Florida, Jackson graduated from Miami Palmetto Senior High School. She studied government at Harvard University, graduating in 1992. She also received her law degree from Harvard in 1996.
Earlier in her career, Jackson worked as an assistant federal public defender in the nation’s capital, where she worked on appellate cases, and served as vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission for many years.
President Barack Obama nominated Jackson for a district court judgeship in the District of Columbia near the end of his first term as president, and she was confirmed in early 2013. He also interviewed her as a potential Supreme Court nominee after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.
In a statement, the White House cited Jackson’s “broad experience across the legal profession” as a reason Biden nominated her for the court.
“President Biden sought a candidate with exceptional credentials, unimpeachable character and unwavering dedication to the rule of law,” the White House said.
It added, “The president sought an individual who is committed to equal justice under the law and who understands the profound impact that the Supreme Court’s decisions have on the lives of the American people.”
Confirmation for appeals court
The Senate voted 53-44 last year to confirm Jackson after Biden nominated her to the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, with three Republican senators backing her.
At Jackson’s confirmation hearing last year, Republicans asked her whether race plays a role in her methodology to deciding cases. She said it did not. “I’m methodically and intentionally setting aside personal views, any other inappropriate considerations, and I would think that race would be the kind of thing that would be inappropriate to inject in my evaluation of a case,” she said without skipping a beat.
At her 2021 confirmation hearing, she connected her family’s professions — her parents worked in public schools — to her decision to work as a public defender. “I come from a background of public service. My parents were in public service, my brother was a police officer and [was] in the military,” she said, “and being in the public defenders office felt very much like the opportunity to help with my skills and talents.”
Jackson, a liberal whose nomination is supported by progressive groups, would replace another liberal, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who intends to retire at the end of the current Supreme Court term. Republicans Friday sought to cast Jackson as a pawn of left-wing activist groups.
Her ascension would do little to shift the dynamics of a court that is dominated by six Republican appointees.
In any case, new justices often take time to find their footing. In a 2006 interview with Breyer, who joined the court in 1994, he said, “I was frightened to death for the first three years.”