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Explainer: What you should know about Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson

Ketanji Brown Jackson

On Friday, Feb. 25, President Biden named Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee to succeed Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court. Breyer “will retire at the end of the 2021-22 term” after 28 years. Jackson’s nomination is historic in that, if confirmed, she would be the first African American woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Confirmation hearings for the nomination of Jackson are set to begin later this month.

Here is what you should know about Jackson, nominee for associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Ketanji Brown Jackson

Age: 51

Birthplace: Washington, D.C.

Education: A.B., magna cum laude, in Government from Harvard-Radcliffe College (1992); J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School (1996).

Current judgeship: U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (appointed by President Joe Biden in June 2021).

Previous roles: Jackson has served as a law clerk to three federal judges: Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the Supreme Court of the United States, Judge Bruce M. Selya of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and Judge Patti B. Saris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Following her clerkships, and after years as a public defender, Jackson was nominated by President Obama to serve as the Vice-Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where she served from 2010-2014. From 2013 to 2021, Jackson served on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Religious denomination: Unknown

Family: Jackson is married and has two daughters. Her parents were both public school teachers “and leaders in the Miami-Dade Public School System.”

Judicial philosophy: In the confirmation hearing after her nomination to the seat of United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, when asked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar to “describe” and “characterize” her judicial philosophy,” JJackson said the following:

My judicial philosophy is to approach all cases with professional integrity, meaning strict adherence to the rule of law, keeping an open mind, and deciding each issue in a transparent, straightforward manner, without bias or any preconceived notion of how the matter is going to turn out.

As reported by The New York Times, Jackson has “not yet written a body of appeals court opinions expressing a legal philosophy,” but her earlier rulings “comport with those of a liberal-leaning judge.” It would seem that her judicial philosophy is reminiscent of that of Justice Stephen Breyer. 

What is Jackson’s history regarding life and religious liberty issues?

On matters of religious freedom, though Jackson’s judicial record is limited, she has publicly expressed support for religious liberty, “describing it as a foundational tenet of our entire government.” 

In 2017, Jackson issued an opinion in Tyson v. Brennan, a case alleging religious discrimination against a Christian worker by his employer, the United States Postal Service. In her opinion, Jackson allowed the discrimination claims to proceed. While the USPS sought to have the charges dismissed, Jackson argued that Mr. Tyson’s complaint was “sufficient to state a plausible claim for discrimination.” In this instance and others, the tenet of religious liberty was upheld. Thus, it seems likely that Jackson will seek to preserve First Amendment freedoms.

Her position on the issue of life seems more troubling, however. Because Jackson “hasn’t done a ton of rulings or work in the health-care space . . . it’s difficult to predict her judicial thinking on a wide array of issues,” including the issue of abortion. However, because she received strong statements of support from pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, one may logically assume that Jackson sides with the views held by these organizations, which are the predominant views among most within the Democratic party today. This is the opinion of Rachel Roubein of The Washington Post, who said, because “she was nominated by a Democratic President — one who has publicly committed to appointing judges that “respect foundational precedents like Roe [v. Wade].” She’s likely to vote with the more liberal justices on hot-button issues, like abortion . . . ” 

What’s next?

Now that Jackson has been nominated, “the President will seek the Senate’s consent to confirm Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court.” The confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin on March 21, “with Democratic leaders setting a goal of reaching a final Senate vote by April 8th,” just prior to the April 11 recess.

Ketanji Brown Jackson


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