Who is Ketanji Brown Jackson – Biden’s Potential Supreme Court Justice?
|District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ ALM)|
Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Background
Judge Jackson was born in Washington, DC in 1970. Her parents were both public school teachers who moved the family to Miami, Florida, where Judge Jackson grew up. She graduated from Harvard-Radcliffe College in 1992 with an A.B., magna cum laude, in Government and earned her J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School, where she was a supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review. After law school, Judge Jackson clerked for three federal judges: Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the Supreme Court of the United States, Judge Bruce M. Selya of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and Judge Patti B. Saris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
Ketanji Brown Jackson has served as a federal district court judge since 2013 and was on President Obama's Supreme Court shortlist in 2016, according to NPR.
Back then, she was a long shot. Not this time. President Biden has pledged that he will name an African American woman to the Supreme Court if there is a vacancy, and Jackson would be a top contender were it to happen.
Jackson, 50, ticks off just about every box that liberals might want in a nominee, and some that conservatives would want, too. Raised in Miami, she was a national oratory champion in high school, then graduated with honors from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where she was an editor of the law review.
She clerked for three federal judges, including Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, now 82, who is the most likely member of the high court to step down, though he has given no indication that he plans to do so.
Whereas four members of the current Supreme Court served at one time as prosecutors, Jackson was a public defender, representing indigent defendants. She also practiced in law firms big and small, and served as vice chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission at a time when it sought to reduce the draconian penalties that had been in place for crack cocaine.
Jackson’s Family and Relationships
Jackson's parents were both public school teachers until her father became a lawyer, and her mother, eventually, a school principal. The judge met her husband, Patrick Jackson, at Harvard College. He was, she says, her first, "serious boyfriend," and has remained that ever since.
At first blush, they look like an improbable couple.
As she put it in a charming — and candid — speech at the University of Georgia law school in March 2017, "Patrick is a quintessential 'Boston Brahmin' — his family can be traced back to England before the Mayflower. ... He and his twin brother are, in fact, the sixth generation in their family to graduate from Harvard College. By contrast, I am only the second generation in my family to go to any college, and I am fairly certain that if you traced my family lineage back past my grandparents — who were raised in Georgia, by the way — you would find that my ancestors were slaves on both sides."
|D.C. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is President Biden's nominee to replace Attorney General Garland on the D.C. Circuit Court. (Uscourts.gov)|
Tangling with Trump administration lawyers
In her eight years as a federal district court judge, Jackson has amassed a record in a variety of regulatory cases. But her most prominent decision came when she ordered President Trump's former White House counsel Don McGahn to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, to testify about possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
McGahn had been a star witness in special prosecutor Robert Mueller's investigation, and the House committee wanted to question him to determine if there were grounds for impeachment. But Trump ordered McGahn not to testify and the committee went to court to enforce its subpoena.
In a lengthy decision, Jackson rejected Trump's argument that a president's close advisers and former advisers like McGahn are absolutely immune to demands that they appear and testify before Congress.
That immunity "simply does not exist," Jackson wrote. "Presidents are not kings. This means that they do not have subjects bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control. Rather, in this land of liberty, it is indisputable that current and former employees of the White House work for the people of the United States."
The Trump administration appealed and the case is still pending.
Potential Supreme Court Justice
D.C. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is President Biden's nominee to fill the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals seat of newly minted Attorney General Merrick Garland, making her the most high-profile choice among the president's first round of judicial nominations.
Jackson has long been touted in progressive circles as a potential candidate for elevation from her trial court post to an appeals court or even the Supreme Court.
If confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, she will join a bench that is considered the second-highest court in the land and has a long tradition of producing Supreme Court justices, including Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and many others.
Brown Jackson has grabbed headlines in recent years by repeatedly tangling with Trump administration lawyers.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who is 82 years old, made no secret of his admiration for Brown Jackson after presiding over her appointment to district court judge in 2013.
“She sees things from different points of view,” Breyer said at the time. “And she sees somebody else’s point of view and understands it.”
Two other Black women were nominated to appeals court positions, including former federal public defender Candace Jackson-Akiwumi for the Seventh Circuit based in Chicago and attorney Tiffany Cunningham for the Federal Circuit based in Washington, D.C.
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