Photo by Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
President Biden on Friday nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson, a federal appeals court judge and former clerk to retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, to fill his seat on the Supreme Court.
If confirmed, Jackson would become the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, fulfilling one of Biden’s campaign promises.
“For too long, our government and our courts haven’t looked like America,” the president said during a news briefing at the White House. “I believe it’s time to have courts that reflect the full talent and greatness of our nation with a nominee of extraordinary qualifications and that we inspire all young people to believe they can one day serve their country at the highest level.”
Breyer, the senior member of the court’s liberal wing, announced his retirement in January after intense speculation that he might do so before mid-term elections to avoid potential Republican blocks of any Biden nominees should the GOP regain control of the chamber.
A similar refusal to consider the nomination of then-Judge Merrick Garland by former President Barack Obama in 2016 gave his successor, Donald Trump, the opportunity to appoint three justices to the high court. Trump’s selections established a 6-3 conservative majority that now appears poised to significantly curtail, or even overturn, the abortion rights provided under 1973’s Roe v. Wade.
Even with Democrats in nominal control of the Senate, obtaining the broadest possible support is crucial to the success of Biden’s nominee.
The party’s majority is razor-thin, relying on the tie-breaking power of Vice President Kamala Harris, and some of Biden’s proposals have been blocked by Democratic holdouts, often Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Jackson, however, has already been confirmed by the Senate three times: to serve as a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a U.S. District Court judge and a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A native of Washington, D.C., she grew up in Miami, the daughter of public school teachers who had spent their own youths in the segregated South. When she told her high school guidance counselor that she wanted to attend Harvard, she was advised not to set her sights “so high,” according to the White House, but did so anyway.
Jackson eventually graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and cum laude from Harvard Law, where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
“My life has been blessed beyond measure,” Jackson told reporters during Friday’s press briefing. “One can only come this far by faith. Among my many blessings, and indeed the very first, is the fact that I was born in this great country. The United States of America is the greatest beacon of hope and democracy the world has ever known.”
The Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police labor group and an influential force in politics, expressed cautious optimism about Jackson’s nomination, noting her family connections in law enforcement on Friday as well as her engagement with the group on sentencing-reform issues that led to passage of the First Step Act signed into law by President Trump.
“From our analysis of Judge Jackson’s record and some of her cases, we believe she has considered the facts and has the temperament, intellect, legal experience and family background to have earned this appointment,” FOP President Patrick Yoes said in a statement. “We are reassured that, should she be confirmed, she would approach her future cases with an open mind and treat issues related to law enforcement fairly and justly. We wish her well as the confirmation process begins.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin its work on Jackson’s nomination immediately, Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said in a statement promising the “careful, fair and professional approach she and America are entitled to.”
Biden selected an “extraordinary nominee,” he added. “To be the first to make history in our nation you need to have an exceptional life story. Judge Jackson’s achievements are well known to the Senate Judiciary Committee as we approved her to the D.C. Circuit less than a year ago with bipartisan support.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who, as majority leader, blocked Obama’s last nomination and pushed forcefully for confirmation of Trump’s, issued a statement that simultaneously congratulated Jackson and attacked her as the “favored choice of far-left dark-money groups that have spent years attacking the legitimacy and structure” of the high court.
“Senate Republicans believe the Court and the country deserve better than Senate Democrats’ routine of baseless smears and shameless distortions,” he said. “The Senate must conduct a rigorous, exhaustive review of Judge Jackson’s nomination as befits a lifetime appointment to our highest court.”