This month, Ketanji Brown Jackson made history when she was confirmed as the 116th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first Black woman to serve in the court in its 233-year-old history.
By a vote of 53-47, the Senate confirmed Jackson months after Justice Stephen Breyer announced that he would be stepping down from the Supreme Court this summer at age 83.
Jackson was a front-runner to succeed Justice Breyer even before he announced that he would be ending his nearly three-decade-long tenure, officially fulfilling President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign promise.
Who is Ketanji Brown Jackson?
Jackson, who hails from Miami, Florida, where her family moved after she was born in Washington D.C., is the daughter of a school teacher, school board attorney, and a school principal. Her father decided to go back to law school, which sparked her interest in a career in law, eventually leading her to the highest court in the United States some decades later.
When she was in high school, Jackson competed in speech and debate competitions as a student, some held at Harvard University, which would eventually become her alma mater. After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1992 with a B.A. in Government, she earned her law degree at Harvard Law School. She was the supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review, graduating in 1996.
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Without knowing that she would be replacing him on the Supreme Court decades later, Jackson served as a clerk for Justice Breyer. In her law career, Jackson worked in private practice and worked in the appeals division of the Office of the Federal Public Defender in the District of Columbia.
Jackson’s long list of qualifications and past work doesn’t end there. She has also served as the assistant special counsel at the US Sentencing Commission, where she later served as the vice-chair. In addition, Jackson has received the highest form of approval in her career, earning multiple nominations from two presidents throughout her career. While former President Barack Obama was in office, he nominated her to the US District Court for the District of Columbia in 2012, and she was confirmed the following year. Nine years after her nomination, President Biden then nominated her to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in April 2021, and she was confirmed months later in June.
According to the Alliance for Justice, after serving as a judge on the District Court and Circuit Court, Jackson has written nearly 600 opinions. Only 14 were reserved or vacated by higher courts. In addition, she’s presided over cases involving hot button issues, including civil rights, disability rights, the first amendment, immigration, reproductive rights, and workers’ rights.
Her historic nomination
Unsurprisingly, Jackson received hundreds of letters of support for her historic nomination to the Supreme Court. Her widespread support included 23 attorney generals, 275 Black women law professors, 850 female law professors, the NAACP, and countless more organizations, professors, and even former judges like Hon. Thomas Griffith and Hon. J. Michael Luttig.
Justice Breyer announced his official retirement on January 27, and merely three days later, the White House reached out to Jackson. Less than one month later, President Biden nominated Jackson to become the 116th Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. After a rigorous nomination process that required bipartisan support from the Senate, on April 7, Jackson was officially confirmed to the Supreme Court, carving out her place in the United States’ history and inspiring generations of future BIPOC women much like those who came before her.
Jackson’s historic appointment makes her only the third Black Supreme Court justice, following in the footsteps of Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. In addition, she is only the sixth female justice, joining three current justices: Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett, and making four of the nine justices women for the first time in the court’s history.
“I have spent my life admiring lawyers and judges from all backgrounds, but especially those who are African Americans like me, who have worked very hard to get to where they are,” Jackson said in a video shared by official social media accounts for The White House. “I have been inspired by Judge Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman ever to be appointed to the federal bench. She was a civil rights lawyer before she became a judge. So it meant a lot to me in my career to have her as an inspiration, and I would hope to be an inspiration to other young people, lawyers, who may want to enter this career and go into the judicial branch.”