Closing The Gap

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to become first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court

Ketanji Brown Jackson, nominated to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, is sworn in to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on pending judicial nominations on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 28, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

President Joe Biden will nominate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, according to a tweet from the POTUS account Friday morning. This selection will make Jackson the first Black woman to be nominated to the nation's highest court.

"I'm proud to announce that I am nominating Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Supreme Court," Biden said in the tweet. "Currently serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, she is one of our nation's brightest legal minds and will be an exceptional Justice."

On Jan. 26, Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement from the Supreme Court after a 28-year run. The news sparked speculation that President Biden would nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, after he voiced intentions to do so at a 2020 news conference in Delaware. 

"We are putting together a list of a group of African American women who are qualified and have the experience to be in the court," he said during the 2020 conference. "I am not going to release that until we go further down the line of vetting them."

Jackson, 51, was a rumored front-runner for a Supreme Court vacancy after she filled the seat of Attorney General Merrick Garland in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, a role she was appointed to just last year by President Biden. Prior to this, the D.C. native was district judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia from 2013 to 2021.

The two-time Harvard graduate is known for her extensive background in criminal justice reform. In 2003, Jackson left her role as associate at Feinberg Rozen, then known as Feinberg Group, to become a staffer at the U.S. Sentencing Commission, with aims of addressing the "widespread disparity in federal sentencing."

As vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission from 2010 to 2014, Jackson continued to contribute to the reform of the criminal justice system, as she supported an action to reduce crack cocaine penalties and address sentencing disparities between Black and white offenders is evident. 

Jackson also has a history of public defender experience and recalled, at the April 2021 confirmation hearing for judicial nominees, that she was shocked at just how many of her clients were in the dark about what happened during their trials.

"They had just been through the most consequential proceedings in their lives, and no one really explained to them what they were supposed to expect," she said.

In 2019, while the House impeachment inquiry was underway, Jackson presided over the attempt by the Trump Justice Department to prevent former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying to Congress. According to the National Law Journal, Jackson stated in a 120-page opinion that "no one is above the law," requiring him to appear before the House under subpoena.

Though Jackson's addition to the Supreme Court is notable, the overall political leanings of the court will stay the same. Currently, there are six conservative justices and three liberal justices on the court, including retiring Justice Breyer.

The nomination of Judge Jackson contributes to President Biden's commitment to judiciary diversity, as he's already made progress in diversifying appellate courts. So far, he has nominated eight Black women to the 13 U.S. Courts of Appeals; five of them have been confirmed.

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