Ketanji Brown Jackson was an assistant public defender in the District of Columbia only 15 years ago. Six years later, she was a federal judge. Ten months ago, she was confirmed as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Last Monday, her whirlwind voyage through the court continued as President Joe Biden nominated her to assume retiring Justice Stephen Breyer’s position on the Supreme Court.
Judge Jackson’s experience
Picking Judge Jackson fulfills Biden’s commitment to nominating a black woman to the high court. Her status as a symbol, however, is misplaced: Harvard Law (editor of the Harvard Law Review), a law clerk for Justice Breyer (whom she will replace), an attorney (and later vice-chair) at the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a public defender with one uncle who was a big-city police chief and another who was doing life on a federal drug charge (until he got clemency from Obama) (until he got clemency from Obama). Jackson would be the only Supreme Court justice with considerable Guidelines experience and the only one who ever handled federal criminal defense work.
In the run-up to her confirmation, there will be the typical squabbling in the Senate, but she will be confirmed. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed delight about Judge Jackson’s support for the First Step Act at last spring’s hearing on her appointment to the Court of Appeals (although he didn’t vote to approve). The Republicans, on the other hand, did not. If a Republican does not defect, all it needs is 51 votes in the Senate: the Democrats will give 50 votes and Kamala Harris will break the tie if a tie remains. At the very least, one person will do it!
The appointment is excellent news for federal inmates. Judge Jackson is consistently leftist, and she knows federal criminal law. The issue of parity between crack and powder was important to her when she served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission in 2011. The Wall Street Journal noted yesterday, “Supreme Court candidate Ketanji Brown Jackson would, if confirmed, be the first justice in decades to have served as a lawyer representing impoverished criminal defendants, a background that might lend a new perspective to the top court’s deliberations.”
Consequently, she is on an equal (if not higher) level with any of her fellow Justices on the court.