Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has been nominated for Supreme Court Justice seat by President Biden to replace Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced his retirement in January after 27 years on the court. Judge Jackson earned bipartisan support with her appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2021. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is one of the most influential courts in the nation.
The Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings for her confirmation on Monday. Ranking Member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) opened the four-day hearing with a prepared statement that addressed the importance of the Constitution's original intent as foundational for Supreme Court decisions.
Judge Jackson is 51 years old and would be the first Black woman to be seated on the court. She will be the third Black Justice, following Justice Clarence Thomas, who was hospitalized over the weekend with "flu-like symptoms." Democratic Chairman of the committee, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), opened his statement to comment on the historic nomination:
"Not a single justice has been a Black woman. You, Judge Jackson, can be the first. It's not easy being the first. You have to be the best and, in some ways, the brightest. Your presence here today and your willingness to brave this process will give inspiration to millions of women who see themselves in you."
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said that her confirmation "would bring us one step closer to having a Supreme Court that is more reflective of our nation."
Jackson, from Miami, Florida, graduated from Harvard Law School Magna Cum Laude. She served as a Supreme Court law clerk for Justice Breyer. The Senate has previously confirmed Jackson to three federal posts. She served for eight years as a federal district judge in Washington, D.C. She is married with two children.
Jackson maintains that race does not play a role in her rulings. Senator John Cornyn asked the nominee, "what role does race play in the kind of judge you have been and the kind of judge you will be?" Jackson replied that she doesn't "think race plays a role in the kind of judge I have been and would be."
Reuters reports that racial bias claims would be a "tough sell." She ruled against Black plaintiffs in three cases where she presided as a federal trial court judge. And, "Reuters reviewed 25 cases in which Jackson issued substantive rulings as a U.S. district court judge in Washington from 2013 to 2021 involving plaintiffs who made claims of racial discrimination, most involving the workplace. She ruled in favor of plaintiffs in only three of the cases. Of the 25 cases, 22 were pursued by Black plaintiffs. Jackson ruled against 19 of the Black plaintiffs."
However, Reuters quotes employment law expert Kim Forde-Mazrui, director of the University of Virginia School of Law's Center for the Study of Race and Law, who said such rulings are "consistent with the pattern" she would expect since employment discrimination cases are "notoriously hard to win."
Josh Hawley (R-MO) has expressed concerns about Jackson's representation of Guantanamo Bay detainees. She defended four detainees while she served as a federal public defender. However, he is concerned with her representation of the detainees once she moved back into private practice. Lawfare Blog quotes Hawley, who states, "She volunteered to continue that representation in private practice, which I think is interesting," Hawley said. "And frankly, from my point of view, a little concerning. This isn't just the filing of amicus briefs."
Hawley is also very concerned about some of her work on the Sentencing Commission concerning sex offenders—particularly those with a history of pedophilia. She served as Vice-Chair for the U.S. Sentencing Commission between 2010 and 2014. He believes she has been too lenient with her sentencing guidelines. A group of lawmakers has written a letter requesting that the Senate Judiciary investigate "her leniency with convicted child porn offenders."
Some of Jackson's Important Judicial Rulings and Opinions
According to the Wall Street Journal, Judge Jackson's 2019 opinion that former White House counsel Don McGahn "should testify in a congressional investigation of then-President Donald Trump is one that has been one of the most widely read" to date. She argued that the White House should not be immune from scrutiny due to "confidentiality interests." The 100-page brief argued that Congress has "broad powers" to investigate, stating that "Presidents are not kings." A pertinent excerpt from her opinion states:
"Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not king. 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, and that they take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Jackson also temporarily blocked immigration policy changes during the Trump administration, saying the policy was not well considered by DHS at the time. She maintained that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not expand their policy on expedited removal of illegals. The Trump administration sought to expand its immigration policy to allow expedited removal of illegals "who had been in the country for up to two years."
On abortion-related issues, Jackson blocked Trump administration efforts to block federal funding to Planned Parenthood. In private practice, an amicus brief filed by Jackson and others supported a buffer zone for a Massachusett's abortion clinic. The Supreme Court struck it down, finding that "the buffer zone infringes on the First Amendment rights of protesters."
It takes 51 votes to confirm a Supreme Court Nominee. Currently, the Supreme Court is comprised of six male and three female justices. Six of the nine justices are thought to be more conservative; however, according to the N.Y. Times, the court has seen several split decisions in the past two years. Justice Roberts and the courts' three newest justices, all appointed by former President Trump at times joined the Democratic appointees in decisions. Kavanaugh led the pack, siding with the left-leaning block 85% of the time.
Supreme Court Splits/NYTimes