WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Friday nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman to be nominated to the nation’s highest court.
Jackson, 51, would fill the seat of Justice Stephen Breyer, who announced his retirement in late January. Jackson previously worked as a law clerk for Breyer.
“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,” Biden said as he introduced Jackson in the White House’s Cross Hall. “I’ve admired these traits of pragmatism, historical perspective, wisdom, character in a jurist nominated by Republican presidents as well as Democratic presidents.”
When Jackson gave her thanks to her family, friends and colleagues she addressed Breyer, and said: “Justice Breyer, the members of the Senate will decide if I fill your seat, but please know that I could never fill your shoes.”
Jackson now faces a divided Senate during her confirmation. She has received bipartisan support three previous times, most recently during last year’s Senate confirmation for the U.S. Court of Appeals, when three Republicans voted for her.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who voted against Jackson last year, promised in a statement a “rigorous, exhaustive review of Judge Jackson’s nomination.”
“I also understand Judge Jackson was the favored choice of far-left dark-money groups that have spent years attacking the legitimacy and structure of the court itself,” McConnell said.
A fundraising email from the National Republican Congressional Committee blistered Jackson as “a radical leftist who wants to tear our Constitution to shreds.”
By contrast, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was more measured in his statement.
“Justices must have an unwavering commitment to the Constitution – including its limitations on the power of the courts,” the senator said. “A justice must also be an unfailing defender of the institution of the court, as Justice Breyer has been. As I always have, I’ll make my determination based on the experience, qualifications, temperament and judicial philosophy of the nominee.”
Understandably, congressional Democrats offered strong praise for Biden’s choice.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, promised “a fair, timely, and expeditious process,” an obvious reference to the quick confirmations by a GOP-controlled Senate of President Donald Trump’s three high court picks.
“The historic nomination of Judge Jackson is an important step toward ensuring the Supreme Court reflects the nation as a whole,” Schumer said in a statement. “As the first Black woman Supreme Court Justice in the Court’s 232-year-history, she will inspire countless future generations of young Americans.”
“Now more than ever, Americans need a Supreme Court that will uphold the promise enshrined above its doors: equal justice under law,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said in a statement. ”Ketanji Brown Jackson’s record and experience show she is the right person to help keep that promise.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, who as then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee presided over Jackson’s 2009 confirmation hearing for the U.S. Sentencing Commission, said she “has an extremely impressive background and legal credentials.”
“It is long past time for the Supreme Court to seat a highly qualified Black female attorney as a member, as we strive to provide equal justice under law to all Americans,” Cardin said in a statement.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, offered his “strong support” for Jackson in a statement. He urged the Senate to expeditiously consider her nomination and confirm Jackson with bipartisan support before the Supreme Court starts its next term in October.
After being nominated by then-President Barack Obama in 2009 and unanimously confirmed by the Senate, Jackson served until 2014 as the vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the agency responsible for setting federal sentencing guidelines.
Obama then nominated Jackson to a judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She was confirmed in 2013.
While a district court judge, Jackson ruled that provisions of three executive orders, signed by Trump, were invalid. The provisions would have limited union rights restricting the amount of time union delegates could meet with those they were representing.
In September 2019, while hearing a case over a Department of Homeland Security rule that fast-tracked the deportation of undocumented immigrants without immigration court hearings, Jackson issued a preliminary injunction to block the action.
“She understands the broader impact of the decisions, whether it’s cases addressing the rights of workers or government service,” Biden said. “She cares about making sure that our democracy works for the American people.”
Mark Graber, a regents professor at the University of Maryland’s Carey School of Law, said that Jackson probably will not be very influential in her first years, with the caveat that no nominee would.
Her distinctive form of liberalism will have an impact in five to 10 years – if liberals gain a fifth seat on the court, he said.
“Right now, what we can expect is at every point where Breyer voted, erase Breyer’s name and substitute her,” he said.
Graber, who teaches constitutional law and politics, said Jackson is a solid liberal but predicted she wouldn’t be a radical.
Biden’s nominee drew praise and support from the National Bar Association, the League of Women Voters, People for the American Way, the Center for American Progress and the NAACP, among other groups.
“We need Black women at every level of the judiciary, and especially on the highest court of the land,” said NAACP general counsel Janette McCarthy Wallace in a statement. “Beginning with Judge Jane Bolin and Judge Constance Baker Motley, Black women have been highly qualified and exceptional judges.”
Jackson noted during her White House remarks that she shares a birthday with Motley, the nation’s first Black female federal judge. Motley’s life has been an inspiration, she said.
“Today, I proudly stand on Judge Motley’s shoulders, sharing not only her birthday, but also her steadfast and courageous commitment to equal justice under law,” Jackson said.
The nominee was joined by her youngest daughter Leila, and her husband, Patrick, the chief of gastrointestinal surgery at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington. Her eldest daughter Talia, who is attending school in Rhode Island, was not in attendance.
“I can only hope that my life and career, my love of this country and the Constitution, and my commitment to upholding the rule of law and the sacred principles upon which this great nation was founded, will inspire future generations of Americans,” Jackson said.