The US Senate voted on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s appointment to the Supreme Court on Thursday. With her confirmation, Jackson makes history as the first Black woman and the first public defender to serve on the US’s highest court.
Jackson is replacing Justice Stephen Breyer, who recently retired. She is the 116th Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Jackson was voted in with a narrowed bipartisan agreement that saw 50 Democratic and 3 Republican votes for the Judge. Republican Sens. Susan Collins, of Maine, Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Mitt Romney, of Utah voted in favor. Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the historic vote.
Jackson was nominated by President Joe Biden fulfilling his 2020 campaign promise to nominate a Black Woman to the nations highest court.
“For too long, our government, our courts haven’t looked like America,” Biden said the day he nominated Jackson. “I believe it’s time that we have a Court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications and that we inspire all young people to believe that they can one day serve their country at the highest level.”
Jackson faced extensive grilling from Republican Senators in a marathon of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. During the hearings Jackson was given the opportunity to tell the panel what nomination approval would mean to her.
“I stand on the shoulders of so many who have come before me, including Judge Constance Baker Motley, who was the first African American woman to be appointed to the federal bench and with whom I share a birthday,” Jackson said. “And, like Judge Motley, I have dedicated my career to ensuring that the words engraved on the front of the Supreme Court building — ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ — are a reality and not just an ideal.”
Judge Jackson was born in Washington, DC and grew up in Miami, Florida. Her parents attended segregated primary schools, then attended historically black colleges and universities. Both started their careers as public school teachers and became leaders and administrators in the Miami-Dade Public School System. When Judge Jackson was in preschool, her father attended law school. In a 2017 lecture, Judge Jackson traced her love of the law back to sitting next to her father in their apartment as he tackled his law school homework—reading cases and preparing for Socratic questioning—while she undertook her preschool homework—coloring books.
She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, then attended Harvard Law School, where she graduated cum laude and was an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Judge Jackson represented defendants who did not have the means to pay for a lawyer. She would be the first former federal public defender to serve on the Supreme Court.
Judge Jackson served as Justice Breyer’s law clerk, and learned up close how important it is for a Supreme Court Justice to build consensus and speak to a mainstream understanding of the Constitution.
President Obama nominated Judge Jackson to serve as the Vice Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2009, and she was confirmed with bipartisan support in 2010. Prior to serving as a judge, Judge Jackson followed in the footsteps of her mentor Justice Breyer by working on the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The Commission, which President Biden fought to create as a member of the U.S. Senate, is bipartisan by design. Her work there focused on reducing unwarranted sentencing disparities and ensuring that federal sentences were just and proportionate.
President Obama nominated Judge Jackson to be a district court judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2012. She was confirmed with bipartisan support in 2013.
Judge Jackson was one of President Biden’s first judicial nominees. She was confirmed with bipartisan support to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2021.
Judge Jackson lives with her husband, Patrick, and their two daughters, in Washington, DC.