By Florence Mafomemeh
Promise fulfilled. History made. President Joe Biden promised during the 2020 presidential campaign ahead of the South Carolina primary to nominate a black woman for the Supreme Court. Well, he has done just that by nominating Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson thus elevating an African American woman for the first time to a seat on the high court bench. Judge Jackson currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. If confirmed, Jackson will become the 116th Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court to fill the seat left vacant by Justice Stephen Breyer who is retiring.
Introducing the 51-year-old to the nation on Friday afternoon, President Biden called Judge Jackson “a proven consensus builder, an accomplished lawyer and a distinguished jurist” adding that it’s been long overdue to have a black woman on the nation’s highest court.
“For too long, our government, our courts, haven’t looked like America,” the President said. “I believe it’s time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications, and that we inspire all young people to believe that they can one day serve their country at the highest level.”
Taking to the podium after the President, Jackson said she is “truly humbled by the extraordinary honor” to be the President’s nominee. She gave credit to “the grace of God” and her parents for bringing her to this historic moment. She credited her father, who transitioned from a teaching career to life as a law student, for first introducing her to her chosen profession. “Some of my earliest memories are of him sitting at the kitchen table reading his books,” she said. “I watched him study and he became my first professional role model.”
Jackson, who clerked for Justice Bryer earlier in her career, also took a moment to pay homage to him. Once confirmed, she will ultimately replace him. “Justice Breyer, the members of the Senate will decide if I fill your seat. But please know that I could never fill your shoes,” she said. The wife and mother of two also thanked her friends and family members, while also revealing that her faith played a big role in her life and career.
Conducting a rigorous process to find Breyer’s replacement, President Biden said he was looking for a candidate with exceptional credentials, unimpeachable character, and unwavering dedication to the rule of law. 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.
Jackson, who has more than eight years of experience on the federal bench is one of our nation’s brightest legal minds and has an unusual breadth of experience in our legal system. This gives her the perspective to be an exceptional Justice.
Born in Washington, DC but raised in Miami, Florida, Jackson comes from an elite legal pedigree as a graduate of Harvard Law School but also has experience representing everyday Americans in the legal system as a federal public defender. Jackson will also make history as she would be the first federal public defender to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court and the first justice since Thurgood Marshall to have criminal defense experience.
The Supreme Court nominee actually predicted her career in her high school yearbook. “I want to go into law and eventually have a judicial appointment,” Jackson wrote. Here she is today about to become Justice of the highest court of the land.
Jackson stood out as a high achiever throughout her childhood. 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 she 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. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, then attended Harvard Law School, where she graduated cum laude and was an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Her parents attended segregated primary schools and historically black colleges and universities. Both started their careers as public school teachers and became leaders and administrators in the Miami-Dade Public School System. When Judge Jackson was in preschool, her father attended law school. In a 2017 lecture, Judge Jackson traced her love of the law back to sitting next to her father in their apartment as he tackled his law school homework—reading cases and preparing for Socratic questioning—while she undertook her preschool homework—coloring books.
Katanji Jackson’s nomination is the first opportunity for Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to help shape a Court that has grown sharply more conservative in recent years, even if his appointment will not alter the current ideological balance.
Jackson, who served as vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission has been vetted and confirmed by the Senate three times – twice for appointments to the federal bench, a third time for a seat on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Not since Justice Clarence Thomas was nominated in 1991 has a Supreme Court candidate been scrutinized by the Senate as many times.
“I think she’s qualified for the job. She has a different philosophy than I do, but it’s been that way the whole time,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said of Jackson last year. He was one of three GOP Senators, including Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who voted to confirm Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
All but four justices appointed in the last 50 years have come from a federal appeals court. They include three current justices – Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts and Clarence Thomas.
Speaking to ABC News, civil rights attorney Ben Crump had this to say about Judge Jackson. “In my view, that of a civil rights lawyer and advocate who is committed to bringing justice, respect, and fairness to this nation, and particularly to my community, that woman is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.” Many have nothing but praise for Jackson.
There’ve been 115 Supreme Court Judges. 108 of them have been white men. Currently, there are 6 black women serving as judges on Federal Appeals Courts.
Jackson and her husband, Patrick Jackson, a cancer surgeon, live in the Washington, D.C., area together with their two girls.