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Who is Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden’s nominee to replace Stephen Breyer in the Supreme Court?

Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, will be sworn in on Thursday as Justice Stephen Breyer retires.

Ketanji Brown Jackson, first Black woman Supreme Court judge, to be sworn in

The Supreme Court goes into recess at the end of June bringing with it the formal retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer and the swearing in of Ketanji Brown Jackson. She will be the first Black woman in the court’s 232-year existence to sit on highest bench in the United States.

Her nomination in February by President Joe Biden was confirmed in April with a 53 to 47 vote in the Senate. Jackson, 51, will be replacing Justice Breyer, 83, whom she clerked for after she graduated from Harvard Law School in 1996.

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Who is Ketanji Brown Jackson?

Born in Washington DC, Jackson grew up in Miami, Florida where she traces her love of the law from sitting next to her father as he did his law school homework when she was a preschooler. She excelled in high school but when she told the school counsellor that she wanted to attend Harvard she was cautioned not to set he sights so high.

She didn’t take that advice and went on to graduate magna cum laude in 1992 from Harvard University. Jackson then attended Harvard Law School, where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, graduating cum laude in 1996.

She got her first insights into how the Supreme Court works clerking for Justice Breyer for a year. Like her mentor she would go on to serve on the US Sentencing Commission which works to ensure that federal sentences are just and proportionate.

She also spent time working as a public defender representing people who did not have the means to pay for a lawyer in federal court. Beside being the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, she is also the first that was a former federal public defender and the only with experience representing criminal defendants since Thurgood Marshall.

Ketanji Brown Jackson becomes a federal judge

In 2012, Jackson was nominated to be a district court judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia by former President Obama. She served eight years before she became one of President Biden’s first judicial nominees, this time to serve on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She was confirmed to that post in June 2021 with bipartisan support.

She was nominated to the Supreme Court in late February from a shortlist of potential nominees made up exclusively of Black women. While campaigning for the presidency, Biden pledged that if given the chance, he would nominate the first Black woman ever to the United States Supreme Court.

Her confirmation hearings in the Senate were at times contentious with Republicans attacking her for representing Guantanamo Bay inmates, although in American justice “everybody deserves a lawyer” and that “lawyers are not identified with the positions of their clients.” GOP senators also said that she had been lenient on sex offenders in her judicial decisions, which was found to be misleading.

In the end though all 50 Senate Democrats, and three Republicans, Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, voted in favor of Jackson’s confirmation. She will take two oaths on Thursday 30 June at noon, a constitutional oath, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts, and a judicial oath, administered by her mentor Justice Breyer.


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