Joe Biden has chosen Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Judge Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, only the fourth person of color, and the sixth woman among the 115 justices who’ve served throughout US history.
Biden promised during the campaign that he would nominate a Black woman for the Supreme Court, and picking Jackson fulfills that commitment, but people should understand that Jackson would have been the most likely person to replace Breyer under any Democratic administration, no matter what the candidate said during the primaries. She’s a recent appointee to the DC Circuit, an appellate court long considered a “feeder” for future Supreme Court justices. And she was a “finalist” during the Obama administration for the nomination that eventually went to Merrick Garland. It was unlikely that she would be passed over a second time.
Jackson will be attacked by the worst white people this country has to offer. JD Vance will feel threatened and worry that “hillbillies” with Yale Law degrees and venture capital backing are being left behind. The Georgetown Constitutional Law Center will hold a symposium extolling the virtue of judicial eugenics. Tucker Carlson will warn that Black people mean to make slavery unconstitutional, then claim to have been joking when someone informs him that it’s unconstitutional already.
But Jackson has been the front-runner for “the next” Democratic Supreme Court nominee for six years for reasons beyond her race, sex, and educational credentials. Her strength lies not in the immutable characteristics of who she is but in what she’s done.
Jackson was a superstar coming out of the well-known Miami Palmetto High School, where she was a debate champion and student body president. She went on to Harvard College, and then Harvard Law School. After earning her JD, she clerked for a Bill Clinton-appointed judge on the US District Court, then for a Ronald Reagan-appointed judge on the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, before eventually clerking for Stephen Breyer himself on the Supreme Court Along the way, she scored big-time legal jobs at well-respected private law firms, and she could have easily had a comfortable life of getting rich while representing wealthy clients.
Instead, she bounced between “Biglaw” and public service. She joined the US Sentencing Commission, an independent federal agency aimed at addressing sentencing disparities and inconsistency throughout the system. She left that work to spend two years as a federal public defender. If confirmed, Jackson will come to the court with more public defense experience than any justice since Thurgood Marshall.