Meet Biden Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former public defender who could become the first Black woman to serve as a justice

February 25, 2022, 7:36 PM UTC

President Joe Biden said on Friday that he will nominate Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. If confirmed, she will be the first Black woman to sit on the highest court in the U.S. Her confirmation would also mean that four women would sit together on the nine-member court for the first time. 

Jackson, 51, would replace Justice Stephen Breyer. Last summer, Biden nominated her to serve in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia where she was confirmed to her post by the Senate in a 53–44 vote, with support from Republicans Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, and Lisa Murkowski. The role has historically been considered a pathway to the Supreme Court. 

In a video message released on Friday afternoon ahead of a planned address to the country, Biden praised Jackson as “one of the nation’s brightest legal minds.” He went on to call her “an immensely qualified judge who’s going to help make our court stronger and more reflective of our country.”

Democrats, meanwhile, said they would move quickly to get her nomination through the Senate. “Judge Jackson’s achievements are well known to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as we approved her to the D.C. Circuit less than a year ago with bipartisan support,” Sen. Dick Durbin, chairman of the panel, told the press. “We will begin immediately to move forward on her nomination with the careful, fair, and professional approach she and America are entitled to.”

Jackson has had a long career that includes clerking for Justice Breyer, whom she’s expected to replace, and serving on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which studies and develops sentencing policies for the federal courts, and as a federal public defender. 

President Biden made a campaign promise in 2020 to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court. “The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity,” Biden said in January, reaffirming that pledge. “And that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court. It’s long overdue in my view. I made that commitment during my campaign for president, and I will keep that commitment.”

Jackson, who was raised in Florida by schoolteacher parents, attended Harvard University for her undergraduate and law degrees. She was in an improv group there, and even took a drama class with Matt Damon. She also met her future husband at Harvard, surgeon Patrick Jackson, with whom she has two daughters. 

After graduating she worked as a criminal defender, where she was assigned to represent Guantánamo Bay detainee Khi Ali Gul, and was involved in other Guantánamo-related cases. Eventually, she decided to run as a trial judge, saying that she wanted to remedy how little was really understood about the inner workings of the legal system.

“I remember thinking very clearly that I felt like I didn’t have enough of an idea of what really happened in criminal cases; I wanted to understand the system,” she said to the Senate during her 2021 appellate confirmation hearing.

President Barack Obama nominated Jackson for a district court judgeship in D.C., and she was confirmed in early 2013. The former president also considered her as a potential nominee after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.

“I want to congratulate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on her nomination to the Supreme Court,” Obama wrote on Twitter Friday. “Judge Jackson has already inspired young Black women like my daughters to set their sights higher, and her confirmation will help them believe they can be anything they want to be.”

In the district court, Jackson decided a number of significant cases. In 2019, she ruled against the Trump administration’s attempt to stop former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying in Congress. “Presidents are not kings,” she wrote. She was also the judge who sentenced the “Pizzagate” gunman, who opened fire inside a D.C. restaurant. 

Republicans, meanwhile, are already slamming Biden’s choice. 

“I also understand Judge Jackson was the favored choice of far-left dark-money groups that have spent years attacking the legitimacy and structure of the Court itself,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “I congratulate Judge Jackson on her nomination. I look forward to meeting with her in person and studying her record, legal views, and judicial philosophy,” he added.

Sen. Graham, who voted for Jackson to serve as a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit eight months ago, wrote in a tweet that “the radical Left has won President Biden over yet again.” 

“We must not blindly confirm a justice to serve as a rubber stamp for a radical progressive agenda,” said Tennessee Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn.

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