Law \ Legal

Ketanji Brown Jackson to Join SCOTUS as First Black Female Justice

Ketanji Brown Jackson made history on April 7, 2022, when the U.S. Senate confirmed her as the first black woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Jackson will replace Justice Stephen Breyer who is set to retire when the Court’s term ends this summer.

Jackson’s Confirmation Makes History

Judge Jackson was confirmed by vote of 53-47, with three Republicans supporting her nomination in an equally divided Congress. While Jackson’s confirmation will not shift the balance of the Court, it will make the Court more diverse and more reflective of the country.

Jackson will be just the third Black justice to serve on the Court in its 233 year history, following in the footsteps of Justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. Jackson is also the Court’s sixth female justice. Once she is sworn in, four of the nine justices will be women for the first time in history. Jackson, 51, also adds to the relative “youth” of the current Court, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh also in their 50s.

Jackson Brings Diversity to the Supreme Court

Like many of her peers on the Supreme Court, Jackson attended a prestigious law school, graduating from Harvard Law School in 1996. She also served as a Supreme Court law clerk to Justice Stephen Breyer. Judge Jackson most recently sat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, appointed by President Joe Biden in 2021.

Despite sharing these similarities with prior Supreme Court justices, Jackson’s path to the Court is unique, and her background is expected to add racial, gender, and legal diversity to the Court. In addition to being the first black woman to sit on country’s highest court, Jackson will also be the first ever public defender to serve as a Supreme Court justice. Having also served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Jackson is intimately familiar with the inner workings of the criminal justice system.

Jackson also has significant experience on the bench, serving more than eight years as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the only other current justice with experience as a judge in the trial or district courts.

Jackson Can Make Her Mark Despite Liberal Minority

While Jackson is expected to bring new perspectives to the Supreme Court, her impact could initially be limited due to the Court’s current composition. Conservative Republican-appointed justices currently hold a 6-3 majority, with Jackson joining liberal-leaning Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in the minority.

Nonetheless, Jackson can still make her mark through dissenting opinions (an art perfected by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg). Given her unique legal background, she may also be able to sway her colleagues to view issues her way, particularly in cases involving criminal law. With Supreme Court justices often serving until their eighties, Jackson likely has several decades to shape the Court’s jurisprudence. She will begin hearing cases when the Court’s new term begins in October.

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