Ketanji Brown Jackson becomes the first black woman to be nominated for the Supreme Court
President Joe Biden has selected Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee for the Supreme Court, setting in motion a historic confirmation process for the first black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.
Biden will make a remark Friday afternoon announcing the selection, the White House said. CNN first reported on Biden’s decision.
Jackson, 51, currently serves on the DC Federal Circuit Court of Appeals and has been a front-runner for the vacancy since Judge Stephen Breyer announced his resignation.
She received and accepted Biden’s offer in a call Thursday night, a source familiar with the decision told CNN, but was present at the DC Circuit Court hearings Friday morning.
Biden met with Jackson earlier this month for her Supreme Court interview, a senior administration official said, in a meeting the White House was able to keep secret.
For more than a year, the President had become acquainted with their work and had read many of their opinions and other writings, as well as those of other candidates.
But the official said Biden was also impressed with her life story, including her rise from federal public defender to federal appellate judge — and her upbringing as the daughter of two public school teachers and administrators.
“President Biden was looking for a candidate with exceptional credentials, unimpeachable character and unwavering commitment to the rule of law,” the senior official said.
From the start, Jackson was the leading contender, but the official said the president gave “significant weight” to other finalists, including Justice J. Michelle Childs and California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger.
The president made his final decision this week, the official said, and made the offer to her in a phone call Thursday night. She took the call, which lasted several minutes.
The White House is considering postponing the announcement in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but felt it was crucial to get the second phase of the confirmation process underway, the official said.
In a statement, the White House cited Jackson’s “broad experience in the legal profession,” citing her career as a federal appeals judge, federal district judge, member of the US sentencing commission, attorney in private practice and federal public defender. The White House described Jackson as “an exceptionally qualified” and “historic” candidate and urged the Senate to “move forward with a fair and timely hearing and confirmation.”
Jackson worked for Breyer and served as a federal public defender in Washington — an experience her supporters say is fitting given Biden’s commitment to putting more public defenders on the federal bench. She was also a commissioner of the US Sentencing Commission and served as President Barack Obama’s commissioner for federal district court in DC before Biden promoted her to the DC circuit last year.
Biden’s election is a chance for him to cheer on a Democratic base less excited to vote in this year’s midterm elections than they have in the past several election cycles. It’s also a welcome change of subject for the president, whose approval ratings have tumbled in recent months as the Covid-19 pandemic dragged on and inflation hit consumers across the country. The selection gives Biden a chance to deliver on one of his key campaign promises, and he hopes black voters who were critical to his election victory will see it as a return on their investment.
Although historic, Jackson’s election will not change the ideological makeup of the court. The court currently has six conservative and three liberal judges – and the outgoing Breyer comes from the liberal camp. The court is already poised to continue its rightward swing, with high-profile cases and court rulings on issues of abortion, gun control and religious freedom expected in the coming months.
Eyes will now turn to the Senate, where Biden’s Democratic Party holds the razor-thin majority. The President will hope Jackson can garner bipartisan support, but Democrats will need all of their members in Washington to ensure their confirmation. Unlike most major legislation, Democrats don’t need Republican help to confirm a Supreme Court justice and can do so with their 50 votes, and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking an impasse. When Jackson was confirmed on appeals, she had the support of three Republican senators.
Jackson is expected to have her courtesy meetings with senators next week, according to a person familiar with the plans. It is common for Supreme Court nominees to meet with leadership from both sides and then with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
As a judge in DC — where some of the most politically charged cases are filed — Jackson issued notable rulings that touched on Congress’ ability to investigate the White House. As a district court judge, she wrote an opinion in 2019 siding with the House lawmakers, who sought testimony from then-White House Counsel Don McGahn. Last year, she was a member of the unanimous county committee that ordered the disclosure of certain Trump White House documents to the Jan. 6 House committee.
The White House indicated that her time on the federal public defender’s office was critical to Biden’s selection and set her apart from other candidates. Biden was looking for “a person who advocates equal justice before the law and understands the profound impact that Supreme Court decisions are having on the lives of the American people,” the White House said.
Following Breyer’s resignation announcement in late January, Biden began reviewing background materials, such as legal records and writings, about his potential candidates.
Biden first committed to nominating a black female judge for the US Supreme Court when he ran for president in 2020. Speaking at a debate stage in South Carolina, Biden argued that his drive to “make sure there is a black woman on the Supreme Court” was rooted in an attempt to “represent everyone.”
Jackson was born in the nation’s capital but grew up in the Miami area. She was a member of the debating team at Miami Palmetto Senior High School before earning both her bachelor’s and law degrees from Harvard.
At her 2021 confirmation hearing in the Circuit Court of Appeals, she combined her family’s jobs — her parents worked in public schools — with her decision to work as a public defender.
“I come from the public service. My parents were in the public sector, my brother was a police officer and[was]in the military,” she said at the time, “and being in the public defender’s office felt a lot like the opportunity to help with my skills and talents.”
Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, is a relative by marriage and introduced her to the district court at the 2013 hearing for her nomination.
Conservatives have already predicted how they will examine their record as public defenders defending Guantanamo Bay detainees. The role she played in her uncle’s successful efforts to vindicate former President Barack Obama has also garnered attention. While in private practice in 2008, she turned over her uncle’s case file to the Wilmer Hale law firm, which filed the case several years later.
Some other notable cases she has on her record as a judge include a 2018 case brought before federal employee unions in which she blocked portions of orders from former President Donald Trump and a case in which she challenged the Trump policies ruled that did not expand the categories of citizens who could be subject to expedited deportation without an opportunity to appear before a judge.
Jackson wrote more than 500 opinions during the eight years she served in district court.
Although Biden has said he would select a candidate with bipartisan appeal who is “worthy of Judge Breyer’s legacy of excellence and decency,” his decision to nominate the first black woman to the court is already facing Republican opposition. Several Senate Republicans have told CNN they disagree with the president’s decision to nominate a black woman for the court rather than judge a female candidate directly on her credentials, though Ronald Reagan and Trump both said they would when a female Appoint a Supreme Court Justice You were on the campaign trail.
Even before Biden nominated Jackson, GOP senators and Senate candidates were already concluding that she would be on the far left, throwing cold water at the names on Biden’s potential shortlist and calling for a slow confirmation process. Still, Republicans have limited ability to block a Supreme Court nominee, and Jackson could enlist the support of some GOP senators.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine all voted for Jackson last summer when she was confirmed as a district judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the second most senior court in the country.
But on Friday, Graham, who had expressed his support for Childs, indicated that Jackson did not have his approval, saying in a tweet that Jackson’s election “means the radical left has won President Biden once again “. Graham added he expects a “respectful but interesting Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement calling for a “rigorous, exhaustive” review of Jackson.
“I also understand that Justice Jackson was the preferred choice of far left dark money groups that have spent years attacking the legitimacy and structure of the court itself,” McConnell said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that he wants to get a nominee through the process quickly, using Senate procedures of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett as a model for Jackson’s confirmation schedule. And Sen. Dick Durbin, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recently told CNN he expects a hearing within weeks of the selection. The goal of the leadership is to have the candidate confirmed by the April 11 break.
This story has been updated with additional developments, reactions and background information.