by Robin Kemp
Judge Ketanji Onyika Brown Jackson is President Joe Biden’s pick for the Supreme Court, CNN reported Friday. If confirmed, Jackson would be the first Black woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice and the third Black Supreme Court justice after Thurgood Marshal and Clarence Thomas. She was one of only eight Black women federal appellate judges nationwide before 2020. Jackson would replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who is retiring, and for whom she clerked in 1999.
Jackson was born in Washington, D.C. but grew up in Miami, FL. Her parents, Johnny and Ellery Brown, are from Georgia but taught in the Miami-Dade school system. Johnny went to law school at night, became the school district’s legal counsel, and eventually served on the school board. Ellery was principal of the New World School of the Arts. A high school debate champion, Jackson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University and was an editor of the Harvard Law Review while at Harvard Law School. She held three clerkships in federal courts under Judge Bruce M. Selya of the U.S. Court First Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Judge Patti B. Saris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, and Justice Breyer at the Supreme Court. She herself has served as a federal criminal defense attorney, U.S. D.C. District Court judge, U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, and vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission. She also sits on Harvard’s Board of Overseers.
Jackson fought for more equitable sentencing for defendants sentenced in crack vs. powder cocaine cases. Her own family has been on both sides of the law: one uncle was Miami Police Chief Calvin Ross, another, Thomas Brown, Jr., was sentenced to life on drug charges but had his sentence commuted by President Barack Obama. Although Jackson was estranged from Brown, she forwarded his appeal to a high-power D.C. law firm, which took his case pro bono and won his commutation; Jackson did not directly represent him.
She has ruled in numerous cases, including such high-profile ones as the “Pizzagate” shooter, the U.S.-Mexico border wall, an age discrimination suit after Michelle Rhee laid off numerous D.C. schoolteachers, and former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn’s claim that he was immune from a Congressional subpoena in the Russia investigation (she ruled he was not; the D.C. Circuit appeals court overturned that ruling. The investigation was dropped when Biden took office.)
A look at Jackson’s rulings does not appear to show particularly partisan leanings of an “activist judge”–for example, she has ruled in ways that, politically speaking, conservatives would like and in ways that liberals would like. Jackson’s brother-in-law is married to former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s sister-in-law. Ryan said he is pleased about Jackson’s nomination. Breyer, one of the high court’s liberal justices, also has high praise for her.
Here’s a backgrounder from PBS News Hour:
Biden is expected to announce Jackson’s nomination Friday afternoon. The nomination process will begin immediately.