Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmed to Supreme Court, making history as 1st black woman

Kentanji Brown Jackson can now add ‘Supreme Court Justice’ to his title after the US Senate voted to confirm the 51-year-old’s seat on the nation’s highest court – making history as the first black woman.

Jackson, a 51-year-old appeals court judge with nine years experience on the federal bench, was confirmed 53-47, mostly along party lines but with three Republican votes. The chair was Vice President Kamala Harris, also the first black woman to achieve this high office.

Jackson will only be the third black judge, after Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas, and the sixth woman. She will join two other women, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, on the liberal side of a conservative 6-3 court. With Judge Amy Coney Barrett sitting at the other end of the bench, four of the nine judges would be women for the first time in history.

Presidential nominee Joe Biden is expected to replace Justice Stephen Breyer when he retires this summer and solidify the liberal wing of the 6-3 conservative-dominated court. Jackson joined Biden at the White House to watch the vote, embracing as he arrived.

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 07: US President Joe Biden embraces Ketanji Brown Jackson moments after she garnered enough votes in the US Senate to be confirmed as the first black woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice in Roosevelt Room at Wh

Political insiders expected Jackson to be confirmed despite headwinds from GOP leaders during her confirmation hearings. The Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked, 11-11, on whether to send the nomination to the full Senate.

However, three Republicans — Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney — all said the same thing: They may not always agree with Jackson. , but they found her extremely qualified for the job. .

Romney said Jackson “more than meets the standard of excellence and integrity.” Both Collins and Murkowski denounced the increasingly partisan confirmation process, which Collins called “broken” and Murkowski called “corrosive” and “more detached from reality with each passing year.”

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Jackson’s confirmation hearings involved tense and uplifting moments

The federal judge endured hours of public scrutiny from skeptics, namely Republican senators who erected a wall of opposition to her historic appointment, the first in the court’s 233-year history.

From questioning Jackson’s views on critical race theory books that earned her an exasperated sigh — “They don’t show up in my work as a judge,” she said — to Charged with the suggestion that the sentences she handed down to child pornography defendants were too lenient, the Republicans’ questions tapped into longstanding American grievances about race, class and public safety.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky set the tone for most of his party when he said he ‘cannot and will not’ support Jackson, citing GOP concerns raised during the hearings regarding his conviction record and his support of liberal advocacy groups.

Republicans on the court panel continued their efforts to portray Jackson as soft on crime, defending their repeated questions about his sex crimes conviction.

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“Questions are not attacks,” said Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, one of several GOP senators on the panel who hammered home the point during hearings two weeks ago.

Jackson pushed back against the GOP narrative, saying “nothing could be further from the truth” and explaining his reasoning in detail. Democrats said she was in line with other justices in her rulings. And on Monday, they criticized the questioning of their GOP counterparts.

“You could try to create a straw man here, but it doesn’t hold up,” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker said.

The interrogation was filled with “disrespectful nonsense,” said Booker, who is also black. He said he would “rejoice” when Jackson was confirmed.

Booker also weathered a tense day of hearings with a speech on racial progress that brought the candidate to tears and captured the attention of his colleagues.

“You faced insults here that shocked me,” Booker said, speaking directly to Jackson, who is being nominated to become the first black woman to sit on the High Court.

“Nobody takes it away from me,” Booker continued, choking as he spoke. The Republicans will “accuse you of this and that. But don’t worry, sister. Don’t worry. God has you. And how do I know? Because you’re here, and I know why you you sit in that seat.”

Jackson, who sat silently with her hands clasped, unlocked her fingers to grab a handkerchief and wiped away the tears that were streaming down her cheeks.

A look back at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s career

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed in 2021 to the DC Court of Appeals as a U.S. circuit judge, a post to which Biden elevated her from her previous position as a federal trial court judge. Three current justices – Thomas, Kavanaugh and John Roberts, the chief justice – have previously served on the same appeals court.

Jackson was confirmed in the appeals court by a vote of 53 to 44 in June 2021, winning the support of three Republicans: Graham, Collins and Murkowski.

RELATED: Ketanji Brown Jackson will be appointed to the Supreme Court

Another interesting GOP connection: Jackson is related by marriage to former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Jackson’s husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, is the brother of William Jackson, who married the sister of Ryan’s wife, Dana.

Jackson was born in Washington, DC, but grew up in Miami. She said her parents, Johnny and Ellery Brown, chose her name to express their pride in her family’s African ancestry. They asked an aunt who was in the Peace Corps in Africa at the time to send a list of African girl names and they chose Ketanji Onyika, which they were told meant “beautiful”.

She traces her interest in law to when she was in kindergarten and her father was in law school and they sat together at the dining room table, her with coloring books and him with law books. Her father became a county school board attorney and her mother was a high school principal. She has a brother nine years her junior who served in the army, notably in Iraq, and who is now a lawyer.


WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 04: United States Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson meets with Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) on Capitol Hill on April 04, 2022 in Washington, DC (Photo by Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images)

In high school, she was president of her public high school class and champion debater. Richard B. Rosenthal, a lawyer who has known her since college, said there was no doubt she would rise to the top of whatever field she chose, describing her as “destined for greatness”. Her older brother, Stephen F. Rosenthal, a classmate and friend from Miami who also went to college and law school with her, called her a “natural leader” and someone with ” penetrating intelligence”.

Jackson attended Harvard, where she studied government, but was also involved in theater and musical theater and was part of an improv group called On Thin Ice. At one point, actor Matt Damon was assigned to her as an acting class partner, she said, acknowledging he probably wouldn’t remember her. He doesn’t, Damon confirmed through a rep, but added, “That’s so cool!”

Also at Harvard, she met her husband, who is a surgeon at Georgetown University Hospital, and the couple have two daughters.

From 1999 to 2000, Jackson clerked for Breyer on the Supreme Court. Deborah Pearlstein, legal assistant to Judge John Paul Stevens in the same year Jackson worked for Breyer, recalled Jackson as funny, insightful and “incredibly good at her job”.

“I don’t know anyone at the time who didn’t get along with Ketanji,” Pearlstein said.

Jackson has since worked for major law firms during his career, but has also served as a public defender. After being nominated to serve on the US Sentencing Commission, the agency that crafts federal sentencing policy, she learned to knit to cope with the stress of the nomination and confirmation process, she said.

As commissioner, she participated in a unanimous vote to allow thousands of people already incarcerated in federal prison for crack-related crimes to have their sentences reduced as a result of a new law.

And Jackson’s work on the Sentencing Commission paved the way for her to become a federal trial court judge, where one of the things she displayed in her office was a copy of a famous petition. handwritten to the Supreme Court by a Florida prisoner, Clarence Gideon. . The Supreme Court took up his case and handed down a landmark decision guaranteeing a lawyer to defendants who are too poor to afford one.

Jackson had served as a federal trial court judge since 2013, appointed by former President Barack Obama.

Jackson is currently a member of the Judicial Conference Committee on Defender Services, as well as the Harvard University Board of Overseers and the Council of the American Law Institute. She also currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Georgetown Day School and the United States Supreme Court Scholars Commission.

The Associated Press contributed. It has been reported in Los Angeles and Cincinnati.

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